Florida Football: Billy Napier gets portal win while mentor Dabo Swinney sits

Billy Napier got his first big chance in college football under Dabo Swinney.
Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

Billy Napier has taken a slow and steady approach adding players from the transfer portal. At times, Florida Football fans wish he would move faster, but his approach did land former five-star Cormani McClain from Colorado and Arizona State wide receiver Elijhah Badger this week.

Considering Napier had his first big break in college football coaching with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, there are elements of program building Napier is trying to emulate from Swinney.

Thankfully, Napier isn't a complete clone of Swinney as the two-time national champ has struggled with adapting to the new age of college football.

Florida Football: Adapt Or Fall Behind

Coming off a 5-7 season, which was preceded by a 6-7 season, Napier's transfer portal approach this offseason was a bit perplexing at times. The Gators emerged from the winter transfer portal period with 11 new players, one of the lower amounts within the SEC.

Even with the additions of McClain and Badger this week, Florida's 14 overall new additions are mid-pack. And even that number is inflated because guys like Jason Zandamela and Jameer Grimsley count as transfers even though they are true freshmen.

Napier has defended his transfer portal approach by stating he wants to make sure guys are the right fit for the team. It's been a calculated risk by Napier, especially for a man who has been 11-14 since arriving in Gainesville but the end result has the 5th-ranked transfer portal class, according to 247.

Whether or not his slow and steady approach works out with on-the-field results remains to be seen, but at least Napier isn't following the path Swinney is taking over at Clemson. As many know, Napier was a grad assistant at Clemson in 2003 and 2004. After Swinney was promoted to head coach following the 2008 season, Napier was tabbed to be his offensive coordinator.

Napier would be let go from his duties after the 2010 season, but there have definitely been elements of Swinney's style of building a program evident with what Napier has tried to do in Gainesville.

Like Florida since Napier arrived, Clemson normally takes small recruiting classes that don't have a ton a filler to artificially boost their team ranking (looking at you Miami). It's not uncommon for the Tigers to take less than 20 guys in a recruiting class.

It's hard to argue with the results given Swinney has two national titles, but that was under an old set of rules before the transfer portal existed.

Now that the transfer portal is the law of the land, coaches either need to adapt or they will get left behind.

Say What Now?

Dabo Swinney has made headlines all week because he is the only college coach not coaching a service academy to have zero incoming transfers for the 2024 season. This is on the heels of the 2023 offseason when they took one player.

Now if you are keeping score at home, Michigan took 10 players, Washington took nine, Texas took five and Alabama also only added five new players during the 2023 offseason from the transfer portal, so it's not like everyone in the country just loads up on 50 new players like Colorado did.

But the difference between Clemson and those first four teams is that Clemson was 9-4 last season and 4-4 in the ACC. Not counting the playoffs, those four teams had a combined two losses in 2023.

One of those things is not like the other.

It makes his comments to SiriusXM during an interview all the more head scratching:

"There's three types of players in the portal. It's really pretty simple. Most of the guys in the portal aren't good enough to play for us. That's just the reality of it… The majority of guys — they're guys that are in the portal because they want to have a chance to start somewhere. They're not playing where they are. They're not good enough to come in and play for us. We'd rather take a good high school player as long as we can get them, which we do, and you develop them.

The second type of guy that goes in the portal is he's only going in the portal as a formality because the deal has already been done. He knows where he's going before he ever goes in the portal. So we're not getting that guy. And then the third type of guy is going in the portal just to see what he can get, and we're never going to win that war"

Could you imagine if Billy Napier made these comments? Again this is four loss Clemson we are talking about who lost to Duke, Miami, FSU and NC State while scrapping past Wake Forest and South Carolina. But in Swinney's eyes, their roster is just too good to add anyone else.

It makes us thankful that Napier at least has some of his own philosophies he is willing to implement and isn't just a carbon copy of those he came up with.

Life is moving fast in college football and the Gators need to make sure they have a coach willing to keep up with it.