Florida Coaching Search: Why Paul Finebaum Is ‘suspicious’ Of Billy Napier – 247Sports

Louisiana head football coach Billy Napier is one of several high-profile names attached to Florida’s coaching search after the decision on Dan Mullen, but Paul Finebaum believes the smoke does not necessarily result in fire for the Gators. Napier has SEC ties after serving under Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama and reportedly turned down opportunities at Mississippi State and South Carolina during the 2020 coaching cycle.

“I’m very suspicious of one thing — why was Billy Napier the first name attached to this job? I overthink things sometimes, but I also know how agents work and I’ll leave it at that,” Finebaum said on ESPN’s college football podcast. “I think it means his agents are pushing him towards that job and letting somebody at Florida know if you want him, you’ve got about 12 hours to close the deal.”

Florida, just 2-9 under Mullen over its last 11 games, will conduct a national search for its next coach in hopes of winning a national championship in the near future for the first time since Urban Meyer won his second at the program in 2008.

The most common names to surface in the early discussion include Lane Kiffin, Matt Campbell, Luke Fickell and Mario Cristobal, among others.

“I don’t know who the right choice is yet, but I have a feeling (Florida athletic director) Scott Stricklin has a pretty good idea who it was,” Finebaum said. “I don’t think he would’ve walked in and just started this coaching search.”

Mullen released a statement Sunday following Florida’s announcement.

“I want to thank UF President Dr. Fuchs, Scott Stricklin, the Board of Trustees, and Gator Nation for the privilege of being Head Football Coach at the University of Florida,” Mullen said in a statement. “I will always cherish the two National Championships we won during my time at UF, along with the past three New Year’s Six Bowls to name a few. The program has a bright future ahead with the young talent on the team and the new football facility that will be finished next spring. My family and I thank you for the honor of being your Head Football Coach. Go Gators.”

Mullen was hired away from Mississippi State in late 2017, filling the vacancy left behind in Gainesville by Jim McElwain. Mullen exits his run as Florida’s head coach with a 34-15 overall mark.

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Florida’s trajectory under Mullen began its downward spiral at the end of the 2020 season before the wheels finally came off in 2021. The Gators entered the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season as an SEC championship and possible College Football Playoff contender with one of the most talented offenses in the country, but Florida entered a tailspin during stretch run, losing its last three outings of the year, including a blowout loss to Oklahoma during bowl season.

Nick Kosko contributed to this report.