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Billy Napier (Az State)
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Not named Alabama offensive coordinator, Billy Napier moving on at Arizona State
Still young at age 36, Napier's entire coaching career is still ahead of him


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TEMPE, Ariz. -- When Billy Napier pauses to think about it, he’s got nearly his entire career ahead of him.
Behind him is an uneven experience as the nation’s youngest coordinator. Somewhere in a safe place are two national championship rings won at Alabama. Some of the receivers he coached there are scattered around the [url=http://www.cbssports.com/nfl]NFL.  
As a coach, Billy Napier has lived a lifetime. He’s also only 36.
“Truth be known, I was a young coach with limited exposure,” he said while reflecting on his early career.
Arizona State’s new offensive coordinator isn’t going to let the rapid upward arc of his career define him. That’s because at age 29, yes, it was cool to be Clemson’s offensive coordinator as the Dabo Swinney era began in 2009.
But two years later, Napier was fired. The offense to which he was handed the keys stalled. It’s taken him seven years to get back to that point, in a place and conference foreign to a native of Cookeville, Tennessee, who played quarterback at Furman and spent every year of his career but one in the Deep South.
“When you are kind of a fast riser and you continue to slowly get hired at a young age, gaining more responsibility, then the rug gets pulled right out from underneath, it is a humbling experience,” Napier said.
All of it is important in the national picture. Napier was one of three Alabama assistants to leave this offseason. Tight ends coach Mario Cristobal became Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator. Lane Kiffin left to coach Florida Atlantic.

In the last two offseasons, Nick Saban has lost seven assistants. Only two remain from the 2015 national championship team that won it all here in the Valley of the Sun -- running backs coach Burton Burns and outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi.
The departure of any Alabama assistant requires a sort of reintroduction back into the wild. Bama assistants are mostly sequestered from the media. Saban’s “One Voice” is basically all we get.
So when a guy like Napier is allowed to speak, it’s worth listening.
“I would tell people all the time: When you walk in the doors at that place, there’s a certain standard and expectation,” Napier said while reflecting on his time at Alabama. “It makes you a better coach, it makes you a better player, it makes you a better GA. It makes you a better secretary.
“There, we’re trying to dominate every time we play.”
It’s fair to say Saban threw Napier a lifeline after that Clemson firing. In 2011, Napier was hired as an analyst, an off-field position Saban has made famous.
With no restrictions on their number or their compensation, Saban has hired a load of famous and near-famous former coaches who have succeeded in rehabbing their resumes while helping Bama dominate.
As an offensive analyst in 2011, Napier got a ring and a relationship.

“I grew more as a coach in a year than I had in the prior 10 years,” he explained.
He also bonded with offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, soaking up everything he could from the veteran coach. At the end of that season, Napier was on the private plane waiting on the tarmac after the BCS title game in New Orleans that whisked McElwain to Fort Collins, Colorado, to become coach at Colorado State.
Napier’s career rebound had begun. A year later, Saban hired  him back as his wide receivers coach. In four seasons, Napier has overseen the careers of Amari Cooper, ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley.
It’s hard to fathom that first season (2013) back as a position coach at Alabama for Napier “was probably the worst year of my life.”
That was the year his father, Bill, was diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Bill Napier is still helping coach high school football in Georgia.
“When you first hear that [diagnosis], it’s, ‘OK, what do we have to do to compete and battle and fight and beat this thing?’” Billy Napier said. “You figure out, you start researching, and you find out it’s a long road and it’s a battle that right now, there’s no winner.”
There’s currently no cure for the neurodegenerative disease. ALS afflicts only about 20,000 Americans at any given time. Because of those low numbers, a certain reality has emerged for Napier.
“There’s no profit to be made in curing it,” he said. “There’s a lack of resources, a lack of research because it’s not an investment.”

So everything else pales during this football transition. Sure, Napier is somewhat out of is element in the Pac-12, in the desert, in a place where his charming Southern drawl is as rare as rain.
But Sun Devils coach Todd Graham saw something. When the pair met in Dallas for the interview, Graham admitted Napier ”wasn’t the top candidate.”
“We spent, I don’t know, four hours just talking ball,” Graham said. “He’s a guy who has been around a lot of winners.
“He’s a value guy. He’s a character guy. I want to hire good men.”
The irony/possibility of Arizona State players watching Alabama film has to be stated up front.
“We don’t run Alabama’s offense,” corrected Graham.
No, they don’t, but they do run similar spread offenses. And the fact that Saban dipped both feet in with the zone-read spread had to make a difference.
Graham is one of the modern pioneers of the zone-read spread, having coached a 5,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher at Tulsa in 2007. And yes, Napier said there are some Alabama cut-ups his players have seen.

“I think Billy was pissed because he was passed over [at Alabama for Steve] Sarkisian and all that,” Graham said. 
Sarkisian went from analyst to offensive coordinator for the College Football Playoff National Championship when Kiffin left early for FAU. Sark had also been a head coach. Brian Daboll was hired from the Patriots to take over the Alabama offense when Sarkisian departed after that game to coordinate the Atlanta Falcons’ offense.
Was Napier a candidate? Who knows. Napier’s gratitude shines through more than any possible animosity. You have to remember, it’s been seven years since he coordinated that Clemson offense.  
“Dabo revived that program,” Napier said. “He’s been with them since the beginning. People forget we worked together for about five years before he became head coach and I became a coordinator.”
But that was his former boss on the sideline during the last two national championship games. Swinney was the guy that fired Napier after a 2010 season in which Clemson finished 6-7 and was 88th in total offense.
“Two years ago, I’d be lying if I didn’t say, on a scale of 1 to 20 in terms of being competitive and trying to find every way we could to have a good plan, I was in that mode,” Napier said.
Translation: Napier wanted to beat Swinney’s butt.
The Clemson coach and his former OC ended up 1-1 in those championship games.
Realization: Swinney endorsed Napier for his current job. 
Graham paused to name the offensive coordinators who have worked for him: Major Applewhite (at Rice), Gus Malzahn (at Tulsa), Chad Morris (Tulsa). They’re all head coaches now.
Graham also paused to consider what he was doing at age 29. That would be coordinating the defense at an NAIA school, East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.
“I would say Billy’s further along,” Graham said. 


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