As the final seconds ticked away on a Las Vegas Bowl beatdown, I could already picture the group of people who rushed to social media to vent about Billy Napier.

This is a family friendly website, so I’ll spare you some of the exact language, but let’s just say Billy Napier’s name wasn’t exactly trending with the word “extension” or “raise” next to it. Yeah, that’s the expectation when a program as proud as Florida gets kicked in the teeth by Oregon State.

Context is probably needed. The Beavers were trying to finish with 10 wins and a top-15 ranking for the first time since Chad “Ochocinco” was in Corvallis (2000) while a depleted Florida squad was just trying to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the Jimmy Carter administration.

The Gators, with first-time starter Jack Miller, probably didn’t have much of a chance to win that game. The fact that it came after a November that included losses at Vandy and rising Florida State probably didn’t help matters.

So what does that mean? Should we be out on Napier after a disappointing end to Year 1?

Um, no. Not at all.

If you think the hire is destined to fail because of the things you witnessed in Year 1, well, I’d say you’re putting way too much stock in Year 1. It’s a horrible barometer for success. Shoot, look at Florida’s previous 2 head coaches. What did a Year 1 SEC East title for Jim McElwain do for his long-term future? And how did Dan Mullen’s New Year’s 6 bowl victory in Year 1 work out for him? They were inevitably on the way out at the end of Year 3 and Year 4, respectively.

Napier preached patience upon arrival. Let’s give him some.

McElwain and Mullen ultimately failed because of decisions they made after Year 1. McElwain thought an Outback Bowl victory was the time to tell his athletic administration he was worthy of facility upgrades while Mullen thought retaining a defensive coordinator who put together Florida’s worst defense since the Woodrow Wilson administration was still “up to the Gator standard.”

(OK, I’ll stop with the presidential administration references.)

Of course, there was more than just the defensive issues with Mullen. Recruiting fell off. Duh. It’s why Florida didn’t have a turn-key roster for Napier and it’s also why after the portal departures, Napier announced to the world in spring that the Gators needed more help via transfers.

I agreed with this sentiment from my colleague Neil Blackmon:

Yes. Be realistic about the rebuild.

If your response to that is “but Sonny Dykes just rebuilt TCU in 1 year,” I’d say 2 things. One is that Dykes is cleaning up national coach of the year honors for a reason. He and Broyles Award winner Garrett Riley helped Max Duggan go from a journeyman fighting for a starting job into a Heisman Trophy runner-up.

TCU was a better team than Florida this year. Dykes was a better coach than Napier this year. And hey, Duggan was clearly better than Anthony Richardson this year.

In a way, Richardson feels like a bit of a microcosm for this Year 1 of Napier. Potential? Absolutely. Maddening? No doubt. We saw that on display in the Utah game. We also saw far too many instances in which it didn’t seem like Napier had a feel for how to coach up an unpolished Richardson. Maybe some of that was feeling limited with the designed runs because of the lack of quarterback depth, and maybe some of that was just Napier not knowing how to drive a Corvette without getting busted for speeding.

The feeling was that if Richardson was going to be 1 and done, it would be easier for Florida fans to stomach because it probably meant he had a banner year. He didn’t. He was 11th among qualified SEC players in quarterback rating and as we saw against FSU when he went 36 minutes without a completion, there wasn’t really a linear progression with his development. If we had seen Richardson’s promising midseason play continue down the stretch, there’d be a different feeling about Napier.

Or perhaps if Florida had a clear 2023 QB1, this would feel more encouraging. As of this moment, the Gators lack that for the first time since Year 1 of the Mullen era in 2018. Even knowing a portal addition is likely, there’s angst in that because outside of a mostly impressive running game, there really wasn’t anything that Florida could hang its hat on in Year 1. I get it.

But having angst is different than saying “he was a bad hire.”

Napier emphasized recruiting and his support staff in a way his predecessor never did. Ultimately, those areas will have a large say in what defines him. Maybe Napier needs to surrender play-calling duties. You can surrender play-calling duties and still be a darn good football coach. Ask Urban Meyer about that.

Those decisions still await Napier. He needs to get better with some of his in-game decision making, and if he’s going to be the play-caller, one would hope he’ll be better on 3rd down. You could say that needs drastic improvement on both sides of the ball. Florida could’ve desperately used some front-7 guys who could wrap up a quarterback. Ask Jordan Travis about that.

Despite all of those Year 1 issues that Florida dealt with, many of which were self-induced, there shouldn’t have been anything that said “Napier is never gonna be the guy.” What about losing to Vandy, you ask? Kirby Smart did that in his first year. Smart is the guy Napier is chasing. He’s a long, long ways from that. That would’ve been true for anyone Florida hired to replace Mullen.

In the grand scheme of things, Napier’s long-term success at Florida wasn’t going to boil down to whether he could’ve gone 8-4 with a promising bowl game showing in Year 1. It wasn’t going to boil down to 1 year of Richardson, either. If you can believe it, Napier’s time in Gainesville won’t just be defined by whether Jaden Rashada turns into the next great Florida quarterback (though it would obviously help if he did).

This is still the same as it was before — recruit and develop talent at an elite level AND always put the team above relationships with all personnel-related decisions. Mullen failed in those 2 areas.

Napier can still succeed. He needs time. At the same time, if we’re still doing the same song and dance in Year 2, we can actually have the discussion about whether he’s the right fit long-term.

For now, though, bailing on Napier is premature at best and ridiculous at worst. Emphasis on the latter.