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Billy Napier can’t truly win over Florida fans in talking season

He’s been saying things — interesting, telling, compelling things. But few who talk about him are really listening.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 20 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days

I still haven’t watched all of Billy Napier’s introductory press conference. I’ve been meaning to watch it with the distance of time and the ability to look at it through a lens other than “Did he win the press conference!?!?!?” — one I think is nearly useless, given that how a college football coach speaks to assembled media is but one small part of a multifaceted job that demands far more from the person doing it.

But I also think that the sports world at large rarely listens to press conferences these days. Ears are taking in the sounds being emitted, yeah, but they’re tuned to what the sound bite could be, whether it be overconfidence or apostasy, and to how that can be used in agate or on Twitter and message boards to cast narratives and win offseason arguments.

Case in point: The thing that Napier said that stuck with me came right at the end of the presser, per the ASAP Sports transcript that Inside the Gators posted back in January, and as part of a rambling, meandering answer to a question about how he felt at the end of Louisiana’s bowl victory.

You guys are probably going to get frustrated with me. We’re going to be very patient and calculated about everything that we do.

Napier knowing that there would be frustration with how he’s approaching the primary task of his job — building a Florida football team that wins enough games to make frustrations fleeting — and having the foresight to be open about that tells me that his confidence is substantial and his faith in his methods equally so. (I think he was also being both general about his process and specific about his procedure when staffing up the “army” of coaches and personnel, which was going to go slowly and not give media members a predictable series of flashy hires.)

But phrasing that response as he did and framing it in an almost aw-shucks manner — one reminiscent of one of his mentors, Jim McElwain, whose own aw-shucks demeanor was cast as the falsity of a used car salesman from his first week in Gainesville — was an attempt to head off frustration by acknowledging its inevitability.

Was that prescient? Well, much of the terminally online contingent of Florida fans spent a lot of June caterwauling about the Gators’ lack of desired dominance in recruiting. And they sure seemed frustrated by what was easily cast as Napier being too patient and calculated and losing out in competitions for the services of talented players who have seemed drawn to a flashy and brash Miami program, among others.

Napier’s off-the-cuff quip that “Scared money don’t make money” to describe a successful decision to be aggressive before halftime of a Louisiana game last year was, of course, adopted early on as the branding that Florida fans, endlessly delighted by the aggression that all football coaches promise and Steve Spurrier frequently delivered, preferred for Napier’s program — and that quip, not what Napier actually said about his holistic process, became his measuring stick.

Many in that same realm have since come around to Napier’s recruiting, as a patient, deliberate approach helped Florida pivot from failed recruitments in June to successful ones in July, culminating in last weekend’s slew of commitments and positive progress from the program’s annual Friday Night Lights camp.

If those fans had been listening to Napier earlier, I think they might have been significantly more sanguine about the results because of a familiarity with his process — one he laid out pretty clearly — and confidence in his quiet but clarion confidence, something that I believe comes across more in person than in print. I think I have seen enough clips, even without watching that first presser in full, to grasp this.

But those same fans largely pooh-poohed the open letter Napier issued in June, one that matches a lot of the sentiments from January. It was the results, not the process, that won them over in July — even if the results stem from that process.

So when Napier says more things today, during Florida’s Media Day, I encourage you to listen, and be attuned to what Napier is actually saying — but I know that most of us are going to be far more interested when we tune in on September 3, and the Gators charge out of the tunnel in The Swamp to face Utah.

All the patient and deliberate process Napier’s program brings to bear on his job won’t mean all that much if the Utes deliver a result that Florida fans don’t want to process.