South Carolina explores how quickly it can rise under Shane Beamer

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Let’s start with the reality that a lot of people were skeptical of Shane Beamer when he was hired to replace Will Muschamp at South Carolina. Beamer was not an offensive or defensive coordinator.

He had no prior head coaching experience. The last name had a lot to do with his hire. Being the son of a hugely successful head coach carries a certain degree of weight in college football, just as it would in a lot of different industries. Beamer also had significant experience working under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. He made a name for himself as a recruiter and a person with great retail political skills in a profession which values that particular ability.

One could understand why South Carolina hired him, and yet the top-line credentials were still thin. When we look at the SEC coaching landscape, Lane Kiffin stands out as a coach who needed to work at a Group of Five job before he graduated to the big Power Five brand names on the market. Kiffin took the Tennessee job way too early in his career. He plainly wasn’t ready for that job. Learning how to be a head coach is something most coaches need to go through before they are handed the keys to an SEC job. Shane Beamer, one could argue, should have gone to a Conference USA or Sun Belt program for a few years before being given the South Carolina job.

The skepticism was there, and it was impossible to ignore.

The 2021 season did much to reduce that layer of doubt.

South Carolina reached and then won a bowl game last year, a spectacular success for Beamer and the Gamecocks.

South Carolina demolished Florida and helped Dan Mullen get fired in Gainesville. The Gamecocks beat a troubled Auburn team and created added difficulties for Bryan Harsin, who very nearly didn’t survive this past offseason on The Plains.

The Gamecocks became a consistent defensive team which rarely imploded. The South Carolina defense allowed more than 31 points in only three games last season. One of those occasions was against eventual national champion Georgia, the other against a high-octane Tennessee offense which made a lot of other opposing defenses look bad. South Carolina games were examples of damage control. South Carolina trailed East Carolina for most of the game but prevented the Pirates from pulling away. The Gamecocks stole that win in the fourth quarter and set a tone for the season: They might not play great, but they would not be outfought by teams with similar talent levels.

Later in the season, South Carolina was outplayed for three and a half quarters by Vanderbilt. Losing to the Commodores at home would have been devastating. The Gamecocks were on the ledge, in danger of falling off, but they came up with a red-zone stop and then a last-minute touchdown drive to win 21-20. That survival act saved the season and gave the team added belief that it could make the best of a difficult situation. The Florida blowout – the best performance of the year – and the very narrow win over Auburn probably don’t happen without that Vanderbilt comeback.

South Carolina lived on the right side of small margins and won the 50-50 games which marked the difference between a 4-8 season and a bowl season. Shane Beamer created an environment in which his players did not give up in moments of adversity and extreme stress.

south carolina football playersAs we turn the page to 2022, no one is going to say that South Carolina is ready to compete with Georgia or Clemson. The Gamecocks lost to those teams by a combined 57 points last year. There’s a big gulf between South Carolina and the elites in college football. However, Shane Beamer wasn’t expected to beat the mid-tier teams of the SEC, and yet he did that in Year 1. He put the program ahead of schedule and established a standard which, if replicated this year, would send the Gamecocks back to a bowl game and maintain momentum for the program. If Beamer can recruit and work the transfer portal in future offseasons as well as he maneuvered this past offseason, the Gamecocks can build quality depth and work their way up the ladder in the SEC.

Speaking of Beamer’s portal work this offseason, few transfer acquisitions made more of a national splash than Spencer Rattler, the quarterback who won the Big 12 championship at Oklahoma in 2020 but couldn’t put the pieces together in 2021 under Lincoln Riley. The fact that Beamer worked with Rattler at Oklahoma in 2020 gave him a foot in the door in that transfer portal recruitment. Being able to land Rattler, and to also go into Texas to get recruits such as Landon Samson, shows that Beamer can recruit nationally – particularly in the South Central Plains – and expand the range of possibilities for the South Carolina program. If Beamer can now develop the players he recruits, Rattler being at the top of the list, South Carolina has the potential to become a formidable program once again.

Skepticism about Shane Beamer was warranted, given the normal workings of the coaching industry. Not having a man with head coaching experience or any stints as an offensive or defensive coordinator cut against the grain. Yet, Shane Beamer proved in 2021 that he is capable of handling the job. This doesn’t mean he’s a sure-fire coaching success story, but it does mean he has the ability to transcend expectations and display a level of understanding about his job which will lead to long-term success.

It would be an amazing story if Shane Beamer becomes a rock-star head coach, given that the man he coaches against in the state of South Carolina was also hired despite lacking head coaching experience: Dabo Swinney of Clemson.

We will see in 2022 if the Shane Beamer story is ready for the next step in its evolution.

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