ORLANDO, Fla. — It is believed that Ron Zook was the first to use the term “noise in the system” to explain the constant criticism among the fan base and the perpetual media speculation about a college coach’s job security.
“And once that noise in the system starts, it’s hard to turn down the volume,” Zook told me a few years after he got fired by the Florida Gators after 2 1/2 seasons. “It feeds on itself and keeps getting louder and louder.”
Memo to current Gators coach Billy Napier: You better quickly find a way to lower the volume, or like Zook, your tenure will be short-lived; ruined by the frenzied feedback and toxic negativity from the noxious noise in the system.
Personally, I think it’s ridiculous that Napier — just one game into his second season (a road loss to 14th-ranked Utah) — is already being lambasted by UF’s constantly outraged social-media mob. Not only that, but there are those in the traditional media such as esteemed national college football writer Stuart Mandel of The Athletic who are already predicting Napier will go 3-9 this season and be fired.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Napier shouldn’t be criticized after the Gators looked discombobulated, ill-prepared and even comically inept at times against Utah. On one occasion, they were penalized for having two players with the same number in the game during a punt return. Another time, on a Utah field-goal attempt, the Gators didn't have the correct amount of players on the field.
For a coach who is renowned for supposedly being detail-oriented, you would think Napier and his multi-million-dollar army of assistant coaches and support staff would be able to count to 11 and get enough players on the field who aren’t wearing the same number.
However, in the big picture, let’s be rational. The Gators lost on the road to a highly ranked and respected Utah program that has won back-to-back Pac-12 championships and hasn’t lost a home game since November 2020. Yes, Florida made plenty of mistakes, but 90% of those mistakes are correctable. Now let’s see if Napier can correct them and actually put a well-drilled team out on the field.
Let’s be honest, shall we? Before the season, Utah was a game that most reasonable UF fans and media members thought UF would lose, which makes you wonder why there has been so much outrage. Then again, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.
After all, we are talking about the Gators, whose fans are historically restless and full of themselves. Back in the 1970s, before UF ever accomplished anything of substance on the field, late, great sports writer Dan Jenkins wrote that Gator Nation possessed “the arrogance of Notre Dame and the tradition of Wake Forest.” In recent times, there is a segment of the fan base that complains even when UF pulls out close victories, prompting former Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley to famously muse, “Nobody suffers winning like Gator fans.”
The question is: Will this impatient, impetuous fan base have the good sense to be patient with Napier, who is now 6-8 at UF? In a conversation with athletic director Scott Stricklin a couple of months ago, Stricklin made it clear to me that he knows it’s going to take some time for Napier to rebuild a flawed roster and even seemed to suggest that UF could suffer through another mediocre season this year.
“We’re incredibly pleased with the way Billy is going about building our program,” Stricklin said in May. “I don’t see any way that Billy won’t be successful. It just may take a little longer than some people want it to take.”
Translation: Florida can’t keep firing coaches and starting over again. It would be insane for the Gators to even consider firing Napier after two years, paying his $31 million buyout and then rolling the dice on yet another coaching hire.
As much as they don’t want to hear it, the Gators should take a lesson on wisdom, prudence and patience from Florida State. Remember the criticism FSU coach Mike Norvell received in 2021 when the Seminoles lost to lower-division Jacksonville State in the second game of his second season?
Even though Norvell would go on to finish with a second consecutive losing record that season and go 8-13 during his first two years in Tallahassee, FSU’s administration weathered the fan criticism. The result: Norvell won 10 games in Year 3 last season and after Sunday night’s dismantling of No. 5-ranked LSU, the Seminoles are ranked No. 4 in the country.
“I’m grateful to our administration,” Norvell said after the Seminoles bludgeoned LSU. “We knew it was going to be a process, but we stayed true to the process. We continued to work to get better through the good days and bad days. As we grew our team with young players, we all had to go through it. As I told our players once, ‘Sometimes you have to go through it for the things you need to get through it.’ ”
Napier and the Gators are certainly going through it now, and as UF’s head coach said after the loss to Utah: “Success is a dirty process. I think you’ve got to navigate a world that has doubt, that has fear. There’s always disruptions; there’s always challenges.”
Doubt, fear, disruption, challenges.
Those are Napier’s words.
A generation ago, another Gator coach simply called it, “Noise in the system.”
And if you don’t find a way to quickly turn down the volume, the noise amplifies and multiplies and vilifies and ultimately destroys your program.
If you don’t believe it, just ask the Zooker.