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Saban talks former assistant Billy Napier; says UA needs to improve on blocking

© Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

It is not as big as Bill Belichick’s or Bill Parcells’ coaching tree; however, Nick Saban’s influence on college football has been well documented. 

Throughout his coaching career, including 12 years at Alabama, Saban has mentored plenty of young minds that have become big names elsewhere. After having battling against one of those names last week, the six-time national champion faces another former employee this weekend. 

Billy Napier, 39, was an integral part of Crimson Tide football.  

He served as an offensive analyst during the program’s run to a BCS national championship in 2011, while helping standouts like Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones, Kevin Norwood and Calvin Ridley all have success as receivers from 2013 to 2016. With Napier as wide receivers’ coach, Cooper became the Tide’s all-time leader in receptions (228), receiving yards (3,643) and touchdowns (31). He assisted Calvin Ridley into having a monster freshman season in 2015, as he totaled 89 catches for 1,045 yards with seven scores to become an All-American selection. In his time under Saban, Napier witnessed two national championships. 

Following one year at Arizona State as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks’ coach, Napier landed a head coaching job with the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. The former college quarterback (Furman) produced a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in 2017 with the Sun Devils. Under his leadership, Manny Wilkins accounted for 3,270 passing yards with 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Running back Demario Richard had 1,027 yards and 12 scores on 198 carries, and N’Keal Harry turned in 1,142 yards receiving with eight scores. 

Even with Napier helping Arizona State achieve a 7-win season, Saban believes the bright mind will be even better for Louisiana and should pose a challenge to Alabama. 

“He’s (Napier) a good coach,” Saban said.

“He works hard. He did a very good job for us when he was here and I think they were good at Arizona State, when he became the coordinator for them. Louisiana is 1-2 record wise, but they have a good quarterback and they run a lot of good offensive schemes that present a lot of problems defensively in terms of adjustment. Their defense has been very disruptive. They do a lot of movements that creates negative plays, so this is something that we need to improve on… being able to block. This is something that we definitely need to do a better job of, as it was something that we struggled with last week.” 

Napier is building a culture based on toughness, but he draws a difficult task in trying to challenge the Tide for its preparation to face Arkansas in the following week.  

Nevertheless, it will be nice to see him in Bryant-Denny Stadium again.

Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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