Inside South Carolina football's ascent and 'great vibes' under Shane Beamer | Toppmeyer
“Oh my god, I’m about to get mayonnaise dumped on me,” the South Carolina coach remembers thinking.
Weeks before the game, bowl organizers struck an agreement with Beamer and North Carolina’s Mack Brown that the winning coach would receive a celebratory mayo bath.
What had sounded like a decent idea felt ominous as Beamer’s Gamecocks closed in on a 38-21 victory.
Beamer’s silver lining: A mayo dousing beats losing.
Last summer, multiple prominent sportsbooks set the over/under win total for Beamer’s inaugural season at 3.5. The Gamecocks won seven games.
After Beamer’s debut smashed expectations, where is this program headed?
“We’re building something special,” senior offensive lineman Jovaughn Gwyn said.
Beamer has had this planned for years.
Shane Beamer brought ‘great vibes’ to South Carolina
Beamer greets me as if I’m an old friend while welcoming me inside his office on a recent June day. In truth, this will be our first time speaking one-on-one and not in a press conference. Never mind that. I get the feeling Beamer knows no strangers. If the coaching profession dried up tomorrow, he probably could run for office or lead tent revivals. Beamer, 45, oozes charisma. People like the guy.
Beamer's smiles are a contrast to predecessor Will Muschamp's death stare.
Beamer arrived on the heels of South Carolina’s 2-8 season in 2020 and infused an air of joy, passion and positivity to the program, says senior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner.
“It was definitely what our team and culture needed – something new and just great vibes,” Joyner said.
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Beamer had been the people’s choice to replace Muschamp. Those who were around the program during Beamer's time as an assistant coach under Steve Spurrier welcomed the hire.
“Did that influence the decision? No, but it’s certainly good to hear it,” Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner said of Beamer being a popular pick.
Beamer spread 10 pages of notes across his desk in Norman, Oklahoma, in preparation for his phone interview with Tanner and senior deputy AD Chance Miller at the onset of South Carolina's coaching search.
Beamer never consulted his notes during the conversation. He didn’t need them. He had coveted this opportunity since he was here under Spurrier.
“It was easy, because I was passionate about what I was saying,” Beamer said.
Beamer had been an assistant coach for a who’s who list of college football coaches: Spurrier; Frank Beamer, his father; Kirby Smart; and Lincoln Riley.
The caveat was that Beamer had never been a head coach or an offensive or defensive coordinator. Tanner, the former South Carolina baseball coach who became the school’s AD in 2012, never considered that a deal-breaker.
"His plan was thorough," Tanner said.
Beamer became Tanner’s first in-person interview during the search. They met, along with Miller, at a Renaissance near the Atlanta airport.
For six hours, Beamer answered their questions and pitched his plan – without even pausing for a bathroom break.
Beamer exited the interview liking his chances for an offer.
Less than 48 hours later, Beamer received a deflating phone call from Oklahoma’s team doctor. Beamer had tested positive for COVID-19. He called Tanner to alert him and Miller.
Miller became infected. Tanner underwent regular testing but avoided infection. He interviewed more candidates. He kept thinking about Beamer, the son of a legendary coach who had vowed to etch his own name.
Frank Beamer’s son wants no handouts
Shane Beamer knew his dad would willingly hire him as a Virginia Tech graduate assistant after his playing career ended.
And that’s why Shane Beamer had no interest in such a job.
“I wanted to blaze my own path,” Beamer said.
Beamer is proud of his dad’s career and says he never tires of answering questions about being Frank Beamer’s son. While interacting with veteran high school coaches on the recruiting trail, he enjoys hearing stories of interactions they had with his dad. And he gets a kick out of seeing a prospect’s parent make the connection that, yes, he’s Frank Beamer’s son.
But while Beamer doesn’t hide his pedigree, burning within him is a desire to prove he’s earned his place in this profession on his own merit.
Beamer played at Virginia Tech as a walk-on and a three-year special teams starter during the height of his dad’s tenure. The Hokies finished as the national runner-up in Beamer’s senior season.
While his playing career wound down, Beamer mailed inquiries about graduate assistant positions at schools throughout the country. He keeps the stack of rejection letters he received – from Bobby Bowden to Mack Brown to Carl Torbush – on a shelf in his house. They serve to remind him how difficult breaking into this profession can be.
Still, Beamer resisted getting his coaching start at Virginia Tech.
“I didn’t want anyone to ever say that the only reason I had a job was because my dad hired me,” he said.
He became a graduate assistant for Georgia Tech, then Tennessee, before elevating to an assistant at Mississippi State, then South Carolina.
Only then, after four seasons on Spurrier’s staff, would Beamer allow himself to take a position on his dad's staff. He departed South Carolina for Virginia Tech with a plan to polish his résumé and return as the Gamecocks' coach.
“I always kept an eye on this place, because, truly, we always wanted to come back,” said Beamer, who tried unsuccessfully for the job after Spurrier retired.
On a pillar inside Beamer’s office is a photo of him on the sideline with his dad, coaching together during the 2011 ACC Championship Game. The photo pays homage to Beamer’s lineage.
Above that photo is a framed white towel like the ones distributed to Gamecocks fans for the team’s appearance in the 2010 SEC Championship. Beamer coached in that game during his final season on Spurrier's staff. Although South Carolina won 11 games in each of the next three seasons, 2010 marks its only division title in 30 years of SEC competition.
That towel illustrates Beamer's self-forged path – and the peak South Carolina once achieved.
The prospect for another Gamecocks uprising improved after a pivotal winter addition.
The Spencer Rattler effect
Tanner dialed Beamer immediately after learning that Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler had hit the transfer portal.
Where, Tanner wanted to know, did the Gamecocks stand on landing Rattler?
Beamer developed a good relationship with Rattler during his time on OU's staff.
Stay tuned, Beamer told his boss.
Two weeks after Rattler entered the portal, he committed to South Carolina.
Even in normal circumstances, the addition of a quarterback who was a preseason Heisman Trophy frontrunner and a former five-star recruit would be a major development here. But after the Gamecocks cycled through four starting quarterbacks last season, Rattler’s arrival “was huge,” Beamer says.
Huge because of his confidence and experience as a 17-game starter (Oklahoma won 15 of his starts). Huge because of what he does for the program’s perception. Huge because of the talent upgrade he provides. Huge because of his presence in the huddle.
Questions about whether Rattler is a good teammate followed his transfer.
In high school, Rattler starred in the Netflix reality show “QB 1: Beyond the Lights.” His character is not portrayed well in that show, Rattler said in March. Old scenes from the show resurfaced after Oklahoma benched Rattler in favor of Caleb Williams last October.
There's no drama here, Rattler's South Carolina teammates say.
All the Gamecocks know is the Rattler they’ve experienced. They approve.
“Great guy,” Joyner said, adding that Rattler meshed well with the Gamecocks.
“He’s good people,” Gwyn said.
Beamer never watched the Netflix show. He doesn’t need to. He believes in the quarterback he knows.
South Carolina seized an impressive bounty of transfers, but Rattler’s arrival, more than any other, heightens the Gamecocks' ceiling.
The Gamecocks possess talent at the skill positions, but a significant offensive upgrade – South Carolina’s offensive production last season outranked only Vanderbilt within the SEC – will require improvement from a veteran offensive line.
“We’re going as far as the offensive line takes us,” Joyner said, while expressing confidence in the group.
“We’re the oldest group that came back,” Gwyn said. “We have to take charge.”
A future at South Carolina
Tanner admits he briefly wondered: Would his coach be interested in returning to his alma mater?
The Virginia Tech job opened last November. College football’s coaching carousel – also known as the “silly season” – spun at warp speeds. On the surface, nothing seemed silly about the idea that Beamer might be enticed.
Beamer moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, at age 10. He’s spent more than one-third of his life there – as a youth, then as a Hokie and later as an assistant.
But, Beamer insists, he had no interest in that opening.
“I’ve kind of done the Virginia Tech thing,” he said.
Moreover, the elder Beamer has really done the Virginia Tech thing. Frank Beamer built the Virginia Tech thing.
Shane Beamer coveted his own coaching story. A chip remains on his shoulder, a desire to be his own man, a thirst to escalate the Gamecocks to heights attained only under Spurrier.
Fire is catching for the Beamer era at South Carolina. This is what he planned.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.