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Josh Heupel and Shane Beamer, two coaches coming off successful seasons, will share the Steve Spurrier First-Year Head Coach Award. The finalists were named in December, and Gus Malzahn also made the final three.
Every year, the Football Writers Association of America presents the award, which is given to best coach in his first year at the school. This is the first year the award has been named after Spurrier, who praised all three candidates at the time they were announced and detailed what this award means to the winner.
“This award is given to the coach in his first year at his school who comes in and exceeds expectations,” said Steve Spurrier in a release from the FWAA. “All three of these coaches got their programs heading in the right direction and they didn’t make any excuses. They took what was there and started running with it and they all had outstanding seasons.”
Steve Spurrier was very complimentary of the winners, Shane Beamer and Josh Heupel, especially considering where both teams were picked to finish before the season.
“They didn’t use any excuse words, they weren’t predicted before the season started to have much of a team. I think South Carolina was picked like 13 out of 14 and Tennessee was 12. They were right down there with Vanderbilt at the bottom of the SEC in preseason predictions. Of course, both coaches led their teams to winning records, energized the fan base and did an excellent job with what they had to work with. They made no excuses the whole year, and I think that’s a big reason why their players played with a great attitude the entire season.”
The job that Heupel and Beamer did this season at their respective schools have given fans hope for the future.
Though pegged to win only three or four games this season, Beamer’s Gamecocks overachieved, winning seven games, including the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against North Carolina. This team persisted throughout the season, playing four different quarterbacks amid a number of injuries, and won six regular season games for the first time in three years.
The Gamecocks return a plethora of talent and have also added a few prominent pieces from the transfer portal, including Spencer Rattler and Austin Stogner. It’s safe to say Shane Beamer is excited for the future of the South Carolina program.
Right out of the gate, Shane Beamer had this to say about Steve Spurrier helping him get to this point in his career:
“I wouldn’t be sitting here at South Carolina if it weren’t for Steve Spurrier hiring me the first time here.”
One of the key questions tonight focused on the Super Seniors sticking around and helping the program build off a string foundation in the first year. Beamer had this to say about the group:
“I think they played their best football in their last season. Those guys that played at their highest level. That was a key part in us being successful.
“Any award I receive is because of the people around me and the players around us,” Beamer added. “It wasn’t always pretty, but the one thing you could never question was how hard this team worked. It was exciting to end the season like we did, and we’re excited for the future.”
Heupel said this about his Super Seniors at Tennessee:
“It’s a group I will forever be indebted to. They are a part of the cornerstone pieces of where we’ve built our foundation on.”
This will be Heupel’s second time winning the award, having won in 2018 after his first season at UCF. There’s no denying the impact Heupel had on the 2021 team, leading them to seven wins and a Music City Bowl appearance. Coming in to Tennessee last January was no easy task for Heupel. He had to put together a staff and also try to keep a splintered team intact. The loss of multiple key players from the 2020 team to the transfer portal didn’t help. But the leadership of the coaches and veterans on this football team helped guide them through rough waters, including an NCAA investigation.
Ryan McGee, an ESPN analyst, introduced Heupel to the group and discussed the ways in which Heupel has turned things around in Knoxville.
“I think when you are in the process of building towards the future, I think you have to make football fun and be part of the conversations for all the right reasons. That’s when I knew he had things going in the right direction.”
Josh Heupel was asked about not wanting to put a ceiling on this past year or limitations on this team.
“There was a continued growth and belief that we had a chance to be a really good football team. For some players, that belief probably started a little earlier than others. For our coaching staff, I think as coaches, you’re constantly looking at how you need to grow, and we added some players from the transfer portal after spring ball. We were the thinnest football team in America this year, ultimately I think we started the season with 71 scholarship players. It’s a great opportunity for the guys we’re recruiting to come in and compete. Last fall, there were times where we thought that depth kinda hurt us in the 4th quarter.
“But when we got into training camp, you could certainly see the growth and confidence,” Heupel added.
These two coaches have their respective programs headed in the right direction after years of turmoil and bad on-field performances. Now, it’s all about preparing for 2022 and taking the next step.