An apparent whirlwind of negotiations over a 48-hour period resulted in a mid-day Friday announcement that former Alabama, Clemson and Arizona State assistant coach Billy Napier is the new head football coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Athletic director Dr. Bryan Maggard announced the hiring of the 38-year-old Napier in a noon email release Friday, with an introductory press conference set for noon Monday.
“We are absolutely thrilled to identify a head football coach with the experience and success that Billy Napier brings to the University of Louisiana,” Maggard said in the release. “He is highly respected within the coaching profession and brings tremendous experience from nationally ranked programs. He is widely considered to be one of America’s top recruiters and offensive minds.”
Napier, who spent 2017 as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona State, was retained on the Sun Devils staff by head coach Herm Edwards, who was hired Dec. 4. The next day, Edwards gave Napier the additional title of associate head coach.
The Ragin' Cajuns fired seven-year head coach Mark Hudspeth on Dec. 3 after seven seasons. An Arizona-based website, 24/7 Sun Devil Source, had reported late Thursday night that Napier had been offered the job.
UL-Lafayette was the second-to-last FBS school to fill its head coaching position this offseason; only Kent State's vacancy is left.
Speculation at ULL during the week had centered on Brent Pry, the Penn State defensive coordinator and former Ragin’ Cajuns coordinator. Maggard reportedly interviewed him Wednesday. But the lack of an announcement late in the week indicated negotiations had stalled with Pry, who recently was given the associate head coach title with the Fiesta Bowl-bound Nittany Lions.
Sources close to the UL-Lafayette program said that Pennsylvania native Pry, who coached Cajuns linebackers as defensive coordinator from 2002-06 and was former coach Rickey Bustle’s assistant head coach for three years, and the university were far apart in salary negotiations.
The website FootballScooop.com reported Thursday that Napier, Pry, Nicholls head coach Tim Rebowe and Grambling head coach Broderick Fobbs were interviewed for the position. Another former Arizona State assistant, Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, also was rumored to be a seriously considered candidate.
Napier earned a base salary of $550,000 last season for Arizona State, which will play in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 29 in El Paso, Texas. He was set for a $50,000 raise in his original contact and was expected to get an increase with his addition of associate head coach duties as part of an announced two-year contract.
The Arizona Republic reported Friday that Napier was expected to make $900,000 per year in a five-year contract at UL-Lafayette and that Napier will remain on the Sun Devils staff through the bowl game. An ESPN report said Napier's contract was a five-year deal and included incentives that could take the salary over the $1 million mark as well as a $2 million hiring pool for assistants.
Hudspeth, who was fired following three straight losing seasons after going 9-4 in each of his first four years with the Cajuns, was making approximately $1.15 million annually at the time of his firing.
Maggard said in a letter sent Friday to donors and ticket holders, “It was imperative that we found a coach who exemplifies the values of the University of Louisiana, a coach who prioritizes the academic success of our student-athletes, builds positive relationships with those he coaches, is a relentless recruiter, places a strong focus on player development, and is a proven winner. Such traits were identified in Billy Napier.”
Edwards said in a statement released by ASU that he wishes Napier “nothing but the best” in his new job. Edwards had retained Napier and three other offensive assistants, including offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rob Sale, a Monroe native and former three-year offensive line starter at LSU. Sale is rumored to be joining Napier on the Cajun staff, possibly as offensive coordinator.
Sale was UL-Monroe’s offensive line coach in 2016 and was on the McNeese staff from 2012-14.
When Arizona State announced the firing of former coach Todd Graham, athletic director Ray Anderson expressed hope that whoever was hired as head coach would seriously consider retaining Napier as offensive coordinator.
Instead, the Chatsworth, Georgia, native and 2002 Furman graduate is headed closer to home. Napier's father, Bill, was a highly successful high school coach in north Georgia before losing a battle with ALS in late September at age 60.
“My family and I are excited and humbled for the opportunity to serve Cajun Nation and our Louisiana football program,” Napier said in UL-Lafayette’s release. “We will make it a priority to bring in the best talent from the state of Louisiana and the nation.”
Arizona State ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring (31.9) and sixth in total offense (427.6 yards/game) while leading the conference in red-zone efficiency and ranking third in time of possession and turnover margin. The Sun Devils scored 30 or more points eight times this year and averaged 40 points per game in a 3-1 November. ASU’s only loss in the final month was 44-37 at UCLA.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Sun Devils offense 14th nationally and its passing attack 10th nationally. Those numbers jumped from 54th and 86th, respectively, the previous season.
Napier coached Alabama’s wide receivers from 2013-17 after serving as an offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide in 2011. He was part of Alabama’s national championship teams in 2011 and 2015. In between, he was assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach at Colorado State in 2012 under Jim McElwain, who left to take the Florida job in 2013.
Napier, a two-time All-Southern Conference quarterback at Furman who led the Paladins to the Division I-AA title game in 2001, was a graduate assistant at Clemson for two seasons before joining the Tigers staff as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator in 2006. He was elevated to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2009, becoming the youngest coordinator among Power 5 conference schools at 29, and the 2009 Tigers scored a then-school record 436 points.