Billy Napier hopes to pay life’s lessons forward as ASU’s OC
TEMPE, Ariz. — Billy Napier arrived at Arizona State in April with a pair of invaluable weapons that could aid the Sun Devils’ revival hopes, as long as enough talent graces the field.
The first was the sting of failure in his go-round as Clemson’s offensive coordinator at age 29.
The second is the litany of tutors with whom he has already crossed paths with at age 37. There was Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who won last year’s national championship and has coached in back-to-back title games. There was Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has won five national championships. There was Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, now the head coach at Florida. There was Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic. And there was Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, now the OC at Florida.
“I think we’re all products of the experiences that we’ve had and the people that we’ve come in contact with, to learn from,” the Sun Devils OC said. “I’ve been exposed to quite a few people.”
While the ensuing experiences educated and revived Napier, the Clemson experience is what drives him.
“Obviously, that was a humbling experience so you kind of re-center yourself and go back,” he said. “I’ve discovered over time that a lot of things that I believe in work. I’m more confident in what I believe in, how to do it… and I’m excited about the challenge. I’ve got a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.”
Napier is coach Todd Graham’s third OC in as many years, replacing Chip Lindsey, who left after one season to take the same post at Auburn, and Mike Norvell, who is the head coach at Memphis. Neither of Napier’s predecessors can boast his resume, a reality that Graham bluntly labeled one of several upgrades when his coaching staff experienced massive turnover for the second straight offseason.
With the defense still a work in progress under new coordinator Phil Bennett — especially the secondary — Napier’s ability to absorb the lessons of his past and apply them could determine ASU’s fate this season, and in turn, Graham’s fate.
More than a few analysts wonder if the Sun Devils will have to score a ton of points to win games this season. Napier thinks they can, and his players are echoing that belief.
“Coach Napier is a really smart guy,” running back Kalen Ballage said. “He’s made the offense simpler to understand, but at the same time, I like what we’re doing. The concepts are solid, and we’re going to create a lot of problems for defenses. He’s going to get the ball in his players’ hands. It’s up to us what we do with it after that.”
Napier admits that his firing at Clemson in 2011 stung. He also admits that Saban threw him a lifeline when he hired him as an off-field analyst at Alabama that same year.
“In that first year, just having a chance to be inside that Alabama organization and observing a lot of the things that I had conviction about,” he said. “The way that we taught our players, the year-round plan for development, the emphasis in all the areas for the players, whether it be academics or personal, not to mention the football aspect, the strength and conditioning, the nutrition, the teaching part of football, how to practice, how to install. [It was] just a tremendous learning experience that I can’t repay.”
Maybe not to Saban, but Napier hopes to pay it forward at ASU and put his own career back on that rapidly rising track it once hugged.
“They see that I’ve got a sense of urgency about myself,” he said. “I’m excited about the challenge and pouring it into them each and every day. More than ever, I think we’ve got the intangibles in place and that was the big deal when I got here was try to really establish how we’re going play, what’s our brand of football going to be, what’s our identity going to be?
“Having worked for some quality people since with coach McElwain, working with coach Nussmeier and coach Kiffin and then obviously working with coach Saban for five years, over time I think you really come to grips with who you are; what you’re about.”