Scooter Hobbs column: All eyes on Napier, no one’s blinking

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Still crickets on the LSU coaching front.

Lots of talk, scattered rumors and some scuttlebutt from “sources.” But no smoke yet from the upper deck.

Now that most of the coaches who were going to get rich over the mention of the letters L-S-U have already done it, things can start moving now.

And, yes, Florida joining the market complicates things for LSU.

Anyway, since you asked, here’s what I figure is going on right now.

Just my hunch.

What it comes down to at the moment is that Florida and LSU are playing a nervous game of chicken, one that neither really knows if they want to get into right now.

But they can’t afford not to.

So they’re staring, poker-faced, across a table at each other. On the table is Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier.

Presumably Napier is there for the taking. This isn’t Mississippi State or South Carolina, both of which he has turned down in the past.

This is LSU and Florida, two of the best head coaching jobs in the country.

So who lunges to make the first move? Does either dare? Or is one faking?

You can cut the tension with a knife.

Think of a college football version of the Cuban Missile Crisis, without the safety net of a red-phone hot line.

Will either dare push the red button on the “football?”

They never have trusted each other, especially since that silly cat-and-mouse game of getting the 2016 game rescheduled due to a faux hurricane. So they’re trying to keep a suspicious eye on each other, looking for clues, any little signal, to figure out what the other is up to.

LSU no doubt is also keeping an eye on FlightAware, the flight-tracking app, to keep abreast of any private jets leaving Gainesville for Lafayette (or from Ocala, 30 miles to the south; sometimes things turn clandestine in these affairs).

It’s about a little more than an hour’s flight. LSU, with adequate warning, can scramble its resources and be in Lafayette sooner, but that’s presuming there’s no traffic tangled up on the Atchafalaya.

Here’s the thing, though. My guess is that neither school is dead sold on Napier … yet.

But he’s probably the safest choice of those still being bandied about, some of whom are fantasy picks.

Napier can check most of the pertinent boxes. Program builder. Enough of a track record not to worry that he’s a one-year wonder. Three consecutive 10-win seasons at a place that hasn’t otherwise done it. So no knee-jerk reaction for a one-year wonder.

Even did a Nick Saban apprenticeship and also a hitch with Dabo Swinney. Recruiting dynamo. Seems like a swell guy to boot.

It wouldn’t be the sexiest pick, but can Tigers and Gators afford not to take him?

LSU fans, at least, might have to swallow hard to accept the hand-me-down from a perceived little-brother school down the road.

But it’s scarier still for LSU, because if the Gators take Napier and he promptly lights up the SEC in blue and orange, the Tigers will never live down having him sitting there a relative stone’s throw from campus and not landing him.

So the standoff continues, with both trying to make sure the other isn’t bluffing while trying to stall long enough to keep an eye on other developments.

The Tigers, for instance, might still want former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the cerebral choice, who’s done wonders at Baylor since leaving LSU.

For some reason, the name of Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley won’t go away.

Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is still out there.

And neither school knows what it would do if Lane Kiffin suddenly bats his eyes from Ole Miss.

But Jimbo Fisher is not walking through either door.

So it would be a shocker if either Florida or LSU don’t eventually show up in Lafayette with a fat contract.

The clock is ticking.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com