Napier matures into his role

pstrelow@thestate.comNovember 11, 2009 

Billy Napier

FILE PHOTOGRAPH — Associated Press

CLEMSON - Starting quarterback Kyle Parker has grown up. Players have improved their practice preparation. One starting receiver, Xavier Dye, "stopped complaining" and went to work.

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier lists a bunch of reasons for Clemson's offensive cohesion the past month.

All have a recurring theme: maturation. And in that respect, Napier believes his unit could be reflecting its leader.

"I'm no different than a Xavier Dye or Kyle Parker," Napier said. "However you want to look at it, that's the facts.

"A lot of people have gotten better at their job."

As was the case with 39-year-old coach Dabo Swinney, there were preseason questions about whether the 30-year-old Napier - the youngest coordinator among the six BCS conferences by nearly three years and the youngest in the ACC by seven years - was the right choice to oversee Clemson's offense given his age and lack of experience.

And like Swinney, scrutiny of his selection raged after a 27-24 defeat at Maryland left the Tigers with a 2-3 record and in jeopardy of a free-fall.

Clemson (6-3, 4-2 ACC) has since scored at least 38 points four games in a row for the first time in program history, with three of those performances coming against formidable conference foes Miami, Wake Forest and Florida State.

Saturday's opponent, N.C. State (4-5, 1-4), is surrendering a league-worst 41.4 points per game in ACC play, having failed to hold any of its past six opponents below 31 points.

If the Tigers can sustain their offensive momentum to defeat the Wolfpack and next week's opponent, Virginia, to reach the ACC title game, they can thank the league's schedule-makers for the timing off their off week.

Napier admits that having the bye week after the Maryland debacle afforded him the chance to analyze his methodology and make changes.

"That gave you some more time to reflect on things you could do better and where things went wrong, whatever the case may be," Napier said. "It was a huge blessing, for sure."

Napier said he and offensive staff members "ironed out the wrinkles" during the open date.

Although he served as the coordinator and play-caller during Swinney's seven-game stint last season, Napier said the experience didn't necessarily prepare him for the learning curve and growing pains that were to come.

"That was just like being on the show 'Survivor' every week," Napier said. "You're just trying to impress and advance, win the game.

"This is completely different. You're on the front end of the deal. Now it's about the future, building this thing the right way from the ground up. It's got your name on it."

From a strategic standpoint, Napier reassessed to whom and how Clemson distributed the ball. The decision was made to incorporate more I-formation running plays to use Chad Diehl's blocking abilities, while shifting pass-catching responsibilities from a young, struggling receiver corps to the tight ends and running backs.

Yet Napier felt the most pressing matter was getting more from Parker, whose low completion percentage and oftentimes costly decision-making were handicapping Clemson on first downs and in the red zone.

Feeling as if he was constantly arriving at his quarterbacks meeting late because of other duties, Napier reorganized his schedule to free more time to devote to Parker as well as brainstorming offensive ideas.

Napier delegated chores that had consumed his time - such as drawing up play-cards or scripting periods for practice - to graduate assistants. Plus, Napier had spent extra time Sundays training the new grad assistants, who were getting up to speed with what their duties entailed.

Moreover, Napier intimated that he also had to adjust to the pressures inherent in not only the job but his age-specific case.

Amid the external criticism, Napier said his confidence probably wavered. But he came to conclude that feeling only would go away when he took the proper steps to prepare the Tigers to win.

"Going into it, I probably felt, man, this is a big-time deal here," Napier said. "It's my first go-round and all that. You work hard at it and really want to do good. Ultimately you learn that who gives a crap, let's go play. You get where you don't really care what everybody says. You get kind of like you were when you were a player. Oh, great, he's yelling at me, that's great. I don't really care. Let's go play the next play.

"I'm just like any of you guys. First year doing your jobs, you were probably better midseason than those first couple of articles. ... You try to get efficient at it, you try to motivate better, you try to discipline better. It's like any other profession. You're constantly trying to get better."

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