Mobile, Alabama isn’t New Orleans, but it’s not far from it.
In fact, history says the first Mardi Gras parade ever was actually held in Mobile in 1704.
And from a pure football perspective, Mobile is a nice fit as well.
“It’s kind of in our footprint,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “From a recruiting standpoint, you’re on that I-10 corridor to some degree. We have had some success recruiting in South Mississippi, in South Alabama and the Panhandle (of Florida). So yes, there’s some positives that go along with that.”
In addition to starting cornerback Eric Garror, the Cajuns' roster also includes defensive lineman Timaje Porter from nearby Grand Bay, as well as cornerback A.J. Washington, cornerback Amir McDaniel, safety Terik Miller and offensive tackle Rico Robinson from Pensacola, Florida, just a little farther on that I-10 corridor.
A family man and former Alabama assistant coach, Napier also appreciates the fun the coastal city provides.
“While you’re there, you’re in Mobile,” Napier said. “If you haven’t spent a ton of time in Mobile, it’s a terrific city with tons of options relative to having a great weekend over there … on the coast, on the water.”
More Napier rumors killed
For at least one more afternoon Friday, Napier's name was again supposedly on the top of the list of an SEC school.
Last month, coach Billy Napier’s name surfaced briefly for the Ole Miss head coaching job.
But that obstacle soon faded and everything looked clear for Napier’s return to the Ragin’ Cajuns.
On Friday morning, it was announced that Joe Moorhead was fired as Mississippi State’s head coach.
And of course, Napier is being listed by some as the leading candidate to replace Moorhead.
ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg listed Napier and former Auburn coach Gene Chizik as “potential replacements.”
Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated also suggested Army’s Jeff Monken as a possible candidate.
Napier was at practice on the South Alabama campus Friday with director of athletics Bryan Maggard wearing a big smile as if he was never concerned about the latest rumor.
Shortly after practice, Brett McMurphy tweeted out Napier had declined the opportunity to go to Mississippi State.
The news of Moorhead’s firing came just one day after UL’s Thursday announcement that Napier signing a two-year extension to his current contract that theoretically would keep him in Lafayette through the 2025 season.
Yet, the rumors persist.
Asked about his future on Dec. 7 in Boone, North Carolina, and again in Mobile on Thursday, Napier responded with reasons why he would stay in Lafayette at this point in his career over taking a higher-paying SEC position.
“There’s a certain level of quality of life that goes with living in Lafayette and Acadiana,” Napier said Thursday. “That’s something that we appreciate, and I really believe we’re just getting started. We’ve made tons of progress, but certainly I think we’re capable of much more. We’re excited about the challenges that are ahead of us.”
Napier has stated numerous times how pleased he is with the leadership at UL.
“We’re thankful the administration believes in what its observed over the last two years and certainly we also believe in what we’re capable of as a program,” Napier said. “We’re appreciative of the leadership we have in our president and in our athletic director and the investors that we have in our community.”
Maggard certainly spoke Thursday like he expects Napier to be around for at least one more season.
“He (Napier) and I both have the vision that this program can get much better than it already is, but the heights that he’s taken it already are extremely impressive,” Maggard said. “We know there was a lot of attention garnered toward him this year with many power five openings, and we feel extremely honored to extend his contract here. But more importantly, it was something that was well-deserved and something he certainly earned.”
Looking in the mirror
In many ways, the 2019 Miami of Ohio Redhawks are similar to the 2018 Ragin’ Cajuns.
Both got beat badly by Power Five teams. Ohio State beat Miami 76-5 and Iowa 38-14 to get off to a 2-4 start.
The Cajuns a year ago lost to Mississippi State 56-10 and Alabama 56-14 to start 1-4.
Down the stretch, though, both teams won a lot of close games. Miami won six of its past seven, while UL had five of seven to win the Sun Belt West last year.
The Redhawks finished it off with a 26-21 win over Central Michigan.
“I think they’re one of the better teams that we’ve played this year overall as a team, when you combine their offense, defense, special teams,” Napier said. “Watching the tape, I’ve observed a team that has hit its stride lately. They’ve played some of its best football here in the second half of the year.”
Sun Belt watch
Being the final bowl game, Monday’s LendingTree Bowl really allow the Sun Belt to know exactly where it stands.
Entering this final game, only the Mountain West at 4-2 has a winning bowl record this season out of the Group of Five leagues.
A UL win would make the Sun Belt 3-2, ahead of the American Athletic (3-3), Conference USA (3-4) and the Mid-American (2-3).
The Sun Belt’s .500 bowl showing thus far is enough to the league to boast the best bowl record since 2016 of .650 at 13-7.
The Mountain West is second at .583 (14-10), followed by the SEC at .558 (24-19).
The worst during that stretch is the Mid-American — where UL’s opponent Miami of Ohio is from — at .182 (4-18).