Ragin' Cajuns confident in keeping UL coach Billy Napier amid Mississippi State Bulldogs firing Joe Moorhead

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

MOBILE, Ala. — After Mississippi State fired coach Joe Moorhead on Friday morning, eyes turned to UL coach Billy Napier as his Ragin’ Cajuns prepare to play Miami (Ohio) in Monday night’s LendingTree Bowl here.

A report surfaced Friday night saying Napier had turned down an offer from Mississippi State, but UL declined to discuss anything regarding the matter. 

Brett McMurphy, a former ESPN college football reporter who currently writes for watchstadium.com, tweeted Friday night, that "Napier, expected to be among Mississippi State’s top targets, has declined an opportunity to join the Bulldogs," citing an unidentified source.

No one at Cajuns practice Friday afternoon seemed concerned at all that Napier would be leaving, and the mood was focused on football, as the Cajuns worked out in shorts one day before a planned full pads practice Saturday.

Related:Napier, Hudspeth on list of possible candidates for Mississippi State coaching job

After Moorhead's firing Friday morning, eyes turned to Napier, as the Cajun coach was mentioned as a potential candidate for the position late in 2019, but the Bulldogs did not make a move with Moorhead after the Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss.

Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard spoke glowingly about Napier on Thursday.

More:Five things to know about the Cajuns' bowl game history

UL coach Billy Napier, left, and Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead, who was fired Friday, talk before their Aug. 31 game in New Orleans.

“The job that he and his staff has done in two years is nothing short of remarkable,” Maggard said then.

Napier has led to UL to back-to-back Sun Belt Conference West Division titles and back-to-back bowl appearances.

On Thursday morning, UL confirmed Napier and the school had agreed to a two-year contract extension — meaning his deal would run through the end of the 2025 season.

It previously was extended by one year, as announced in October and signed earlier in the year. That extension was an automatic one triggered by terms of his original deal with the school.

The newly signed agreement is pending approval from the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors, whose next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.

In other words, the board has not signed off on the contract.

UL on Friday would not disclose Napier's salary on the extended contract or new buyout terms of the deal after the two extra years were added.

The reason: "Because it's still pending board approval," a UL spokesman said Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, after flying into Mobile for bowl preparation, Napier — a former offensive coordinator at Arizona State and Clemson who spent four seasons as Nick Saban’s receivers coach at Alabama from 2013-16 — addressed his contract extension agreement and sounded as if he indeed intended to stay as he spoke about future possibilities at UL.

The two-year extension was initiated when Napier's name began to surface as a potential candidate for job openings elsewhere late in the current season. It also was spurred when Napier was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Mississippi State in the event the Bulldogs had fired Moorhead in the aftermath of the late-November Egg Bowl.

It's unclear when the latest extension actually was signed. 

More:LendingTree Bowl about the ring and more for the Cajuns

“We’re thankful the administration believes in what they have observed over the last two years. We also believe in what we’re capable of as a program,” he said.

“There’s a certain quality of life that goes with living in Lafayette, Acadiana, and that’s something that we appreciate.

“And I really believe we’re just getting started,” Napier added then. “We’ve made tons of progress, but I think we're capable of much more, and certainly (are) excited about the challenges that are ahead of us.”

Napier made a Sun Belt-high $875,000 in 2019 including but not necessarily limited to base pay, RCAF supplemental pay and deferred payments.

He received a $25,000 bonus for winning the SBC West in 2019, a $25,000 bonus for getting UL to a bowl and a $25,000 bonus for being named Sun Belt Coach of the Year for 2019.

According to terms of his contract when it was extended in 2019, Napier had a $1.25 million buyout for getting out of his contract in 2020 and would have lost a $100,000 retention bonus if he left before Jan. 31, 2020.

The buyout number was down from $2 million in 2019.

Financial terms changed with his latest extension, however, and those figures have not been released by the school.

More:Ragin' Cajuns coach Napier addresses job status at UL

Sports Illustrated reported via Twitter on Friday morning that Napier, former Auburn coach Gene Chizik and current Army coach Jeff Monken are “just a few names swirling in Starkville,” and that Louisiana Tech’s Skip Holtz “is a strong candidate.”

Also mentioned were as having “strong ties to the state” were former UL head coach Mark Hudspeth, an ex-Mississippi State passing game coordinator who now is head coach at FCS-member Austin Peay, and former Southern Mississippi and North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora, an analyst at Texas in 2019.

Reported Sports Illustrated in an online story:

“Louisiana’s Billy Napier is a strong Group of 5 coach with southeast ties who in his second year led the Cajuns to a school-record 10 regular-season wins.

“(Mississippi State athletic director John) Cohen could go unorthodox with a coach from a military academy, hoping to bring to Starkville an option scheme with spread concepts, captained by a disciplinarian like Army’s Jeff Monken.”

Napier's named also was mentioned as a potential candidate for recent SEC openings at Arkansas, Missouri and Ole Miss, but nothing serious ever materialized.

Moorhead, a former offensive coordinator at Penn State, lasted just two seasons in Starkville.

His firing came four days after a Music City Bowl loss to Louisville, a game Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader did not play in due to a broken orbital bone sustained in an alleged pre-bowl fight with a teammate.

Moorhead's teams went a combined 14-12 in 2018 and '19 with two bowl appearances. That record includes two wins over Napier and the Cajuns.

"In consultation with President Mark Keenum and after a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of our football program, I have decided that a change in leadership is in the best interest of our team and university," Cohen said in a statement released by the school, which also said a "national search" for Moorhead's replacement is underway.

"It is clear the time has come to change the leadership of our football program," Mississippi State president Keenum added.

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