Smart talk plans

How Florida plans to win college football’s new arms race

The arms race in college football in the 2000s and 2010s was all about extravagant spending: stadium renovations and expansions eclipsing $100 million, football-only facilities with so many bells and whistles, the inclusion of Miniature golf and flight simulators no longer paid attention to a second glance.

For the billions of dollars spent, it is impossible to determine who emerged – or remained – blue blooded through a spending spree that was more of a circular rat race than an arms race. Yet the escalation once charted by architects has slowed, and competition for supremacy has shifted to the people occupying the very halls that have been erected and renovated on college campuses over the past 20 years.

“The arms race over facilities is well documented,” Florida freshman coach says Billy Napier. “But I also think there’s an arms race over how many people who actually contribute to your team that you have behind the scenes.”

Welcome to the age of the personal. The sport emerged from the 2010s more NFL than amateur behind the scenes. The support staff (off-field workers) has grown from two graduate assistants, a director of high school relations and a director of football operations to a mid-size office space teeming with more than 30 employees whose off-field roles range from film and player analysts to social media managers and graphic designers. They all have a common goal: to attract the best players, support them on campus and develop them into well-rounded individuals on and off the pitch. Simply put, turn otherworldly football resorts built during the boom times into four-year all-inclusive resorts.

The model, adopted from NFL back offices, was developed and perfected in Alabama, where Nick Saban convinced his bosses to splurge on the two steel beams and people. Others replicated the plan, notably those in Saban’s coaching tree. Smart Kirby won a national championship using the plan against his mentor last season. Mel Tucker resurrected Michigan State overnight and landed a 10-year contract to implement the business plan.

And Napier pushed Louisiana into the national conversation with Sun Belt championships and extended fights with Iowa State (one win) and Texas with a gigantic and efficient support staff. Predictably, SEC suitors inundated him with feelers until he finally pursued the gig in Florida in December.

“My time in Alabama really opened my eyes to what it’s like,” Napier said. “Nick was a little ahead of the curve running it like an NFL team. You have your own personnel department, your own recruiting group on campus, you have specific areas within each organization.

Napier replicated Saban’s plan – and added a few pages to it – in Louisiana and it worked. In Florida, he transformed an ecosystem into a planet in its own right. Its off-field staff recently reached 50 employees, according to Thomas Goldkamp of Swamp247and with this expanded office space comes the push for initiatives and studies – and innovation.

How could a program best use its staff and time to make the football team more successful in the fall? For Napier, it’s about launching an educational support system to mentor players and develop life skills (GatorMade), pushing the university to access new housing options to provide players with better dorms closer to football facilities, becoming the only Power Five program to hire. two full-time offensive line coaches and transportation of players from the football field to the spring training field.

Transportation to workouts saves 18 minutes of commuting each day and keeps players on their feet, saving them an extra 20 miles of wear and tear on their bodies.

Yes, there’s a human Fitbit on the Florida support staff that calculates those numbers.

Then there are the countless hours spent in the office analyzing rookie film, monitoring the transfer portal for new entrants, and maintaining contact with hundreds of high school coaches, alumni and various contacts on the recruiting track (the cornerstone of every program). And don’t forget name, image and likeness organizations such as The Gator Collective, which may not be directly affiliated with the athletics department or university, but still greatly benefit players financially. .

“You realize pretty quickly when you get those leadership positions, that the most important thing you do is hire really good people,” Napier said. “You try to create an environment where they can experiment, but also at the same time be effective. We are looking for people who sincerely and genuinely care about players, people in general and who are really experienced experts in what they do. So we spend a lot of time throughout the year researching who the newcomers are. Who are the best in their field? What can we learn from these people? And also, when we get opportunities and we “We have attrition within the organization, we kind of have the next person in line. In the dynamics of college football today, you really need a great team of people. You give them a role.” I hope you hire people who want to take on their role. They want to work to earn more, and you try to empower them and give them ownership of their domain. And we have it f have. We were very lucky. This is the main factor that has contributed to our success in the past and I believe it will be the same in the future.

It’s always in vogue to erect a new building or two while hiring enough employees to fill an office building. The Gators also have their whimsical new digs coming up, with an $85 million facility that will take the football program out of the cramped underbelly beneath Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, across Gale Lemerand Drive, around Center O ‘Connell and walk into their new home: a 142,000 square foot facility adjacent to outdoor and indoor practice courts.

Yes, pouring money into infrastructure will never go out of style in college football. The arms race only evolves and expands, and grows new legs thanks to enterprising coaches like Billy Napier.

The Spring Dish is a daily college football column from the National Reporter Brandon Marcello covering the biggest stories of spring.

Read more about what Napier thinks is an active spring in the transfer portal here via 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong.