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COLUMBIA, S.C. — If you want to know how challenging the head-coaching job at South Carolina is, try answering questions from 9-year-old kids about your hated rival, Clemson.
Shane Beamer faced the heat Friday afternoon while speaking to his son Hunter’s class at a local elementary school. A brave kid raised his hand and asked the Gamecocks third-year head coach if he liked his counterpart at Clemson, Dabo Swinney.
“We get along, Coach Dabo and I are buddies. His son just got married, so we sent them a wedding gift,” Beamer told the group of students. “Do you think I would’ve sent them a gift if I didn’t like them?”
I shadowed Beamer last Friday, the day of the final spring practice before the spring game. I wanted to get to know the coach and also gain insight into how he’s changing the Gamecocks football program, which is coming off back-to-back winning seasons in Beamer’s first two years in charge.
Back in the classroom, I watched as he told 9-year-old kids some of the same things he’d say to young college players about leadership. Closely watching his interactions, I felt like Shane Beamer was in his element, selling the program.
There are certain elements to the South Carolina football program that are beginning to take shape heading into Shane Beamer’s third season. Beamer has always been a guy who prefers to run things his way, keeping up with his daily schedule to the last minute, while trying to stay in the race with SEC foes and in-state rival Clemson.
I’ll admit, there were times when I thought this young coach might not be able to get it done in Columbia. But after the way 2022 ended, Beamer is figuring out a way to takeover the state of South Carolina, one recruit, one speech, one practice at a time.
Friday Craziness Before Saturday’s Spring Game
Shane Beamer pulled into his parking spot early Friday, knowing he had a full schedule on his hands. The team held a draft on Thursday night to decide the rosters for the spring game, and now opposing coaches were texting each other, hoping to make last-minute trades. Some of the offers were pretty strong in group chat, with Beamer announcing a trade during practice on Friday.
“My job on Saturday is to blow the whistle and not let our quarterbacks take a hit,” Beamer said while on the practice field. “It’s going to be fun for the players, but I hope the crowd shows up.”
Taking a stroll through the facility, you could hear a few players chattering — Last one, let’s get this thing done — before taking the field for their final spring practice. An offseason full of excitement had built up and the Gamecocks were excited to show off their new-look offense in front of fans inside Williams-Brice Stadium at Saturday’s spring game.
There is only so much a coach can do to sell the future, and Beamer works his butt off every opportunity he gets. Friday would be one of those days where he is selling the future, shaking hands with practice visitors before the meat of it all began.
“We’ve got an excited fan base [and] there’s a long ways to go before the season-opener,” Beamer said. “I’ll meet with every player next week to discuss their role on the team. If that player isn’t happy, there’s a good chance he’ll hit the transfer portal, then it’s our job to fill that spot.”
Every Minute Is Planned For Gamecocks Coach
Practice ended at 11:10, but Shane doesn’t make it to his office until 11:40, talking with players and watching Spencer Rattler hit a trashcan with a football. The remainder of Beamer’s day is a busy one. Beamer rushes to grab a quick shower, knowing he has to scarf down his lunch before meeting with three recruits separately before 12:35.
One by one, each player heads into Beamer’s office for a sit-down with the coach as he sells the program, while also discussing the recruit’s everyday life. His personality is hard to ignore, and Beamer will tell a player if something isn’t going to work.
As Beamer walks out of his office at 12:38, it was time for the next task on his schedule. This one would be the highlight of his day. I hopped into the car with Beamer as we drove to his son’s school. Yes, the head coach at South Carolina was about to give a speech on leadership to nine-year old kids. His son Hunter would be in the audience, so Shane stayed away from any embarrassing stories, though he had plenty to share if needed.
We walked onto campus, checked in with security and watched the kids jump off different items on the playground. While walking out of the office, a young boy greeted Beamer. “Hey coach, I saw you on TV at The Masters,” he said.
It’s easy to notice how much these type of events mean to Beamer, not just because his kids go to school here. A number of teachers on the playground thanked him for showing up and exclaimed how excited the kids were to hear him speak. It was a pretty hard room at first, with one kid saying, “My family roots for Clemson,” which Beamer laughed away.
Expectations to be involved with different organizations across the state come with the job. Next up at 2 p.m., Beamer participated in a press conference that centered around ‘Child ID’ technology. Along with his son, who would be a part of the press conference, we loaded up and headed back to campus. Everything moved as scheduled, while Beamer’s son Hunter asked questions about what he needed to do on-stage.
While driving past the football stadium, I asked Shane how many folks he thought would show up to the spring game.
“I hope we get a good crowd, the players deserve it,” Shane said proudly. “We’ve built up an excitement level around the state, but a lot of people might forget we lost 38-6 to Florida before beating Tennessee. So, it can go both ways. I know folks are expecting big things, but we’ve got a long road ahead.”
Spencer Rattler Becoming The Leader This Team Needs
Fans are expecting South Carolina to take the next step in 2023. After beating Tennessee and Clemson, then losing a close one to Notre Dame in the bowl game, Beamer understands the excitement. But, this team did lose playmakers off that squad and having to replace them isn’t an easy task. But as for Spencer Rattler, South Carolina’s new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has been one of the best things for the veteran quarterback this offseason.
“He’s definitely got more leeway with the playbook, we trust him,” Beamer said of Rattler. “I think having Dowell come in has helped him this spring. They’re always in the film room and you can tell they continue to build that relationship needed.”
It wasn’t easy for Rattler in his first year, with expectations through the roof for the Oklahoma transfer. He certainly didn’t look like the same quarterback in the first nine games of the season, compared to the final three. But the Gamecocks finally let him loose towards the back-end of the schedule, giving him the freedom to be the playmaker he is.
Sure, there are some flaws to Rattler’s game if you ask other coaches around the country, but Beamer sees a young man who has grown up during his time in Columbia. It certainly didn’t help that he was a household name for some of the things portrayed on the Netflix documentary ‘QB-1’. But there’s nothing this staff or Rattler can do about the past.
“He get’s a bad rap sometimes,” Beamer said about Rattler. “He’s a good kid, who’s finally coming into his own. Becoming a leader was the biggest thing for him, and I know he has been working on that since arriving here. We just need him to do his job and we’ll be fine.”
As for Spencer Rattler on the field, he’s still learning everyday. For a guy who has been around college football for a number of years now, the process is still the same. A guy who was once ridiculed for his lack of perceived self-awareness, what Shane Beamer has done inside the building has rubbed off on Rattler.
Having such a family style environment is maybe one of the most beneficial aspects of South Carolina for Spencer Rattler. There doesn’t seem to be much friction when it comes to NIL, and coming off the end of 2022, the Gamecocks now have a target on their back.
Expectations have only risen during the first two years of the Beamer era in Columbia, which is a good problem to have. A number of coaches pointed out to me that they can be successful in 2023, but that they hope fans understand the makeup of this year’s roster. If the Gamecocks start the season with a loss to North Carolina, then follow it up with a loss to Georgia, there will be angst among the fan base.
But all of this is because fans now expect this team to win football games.
This is why that first win in 2023 is so important for the program to set the tone. Also it’s part of the reason why North Carolina, the Week 1 opponent, is mentioned so much around the facility.
Family Environment At South Carolina Rubs Off On Players
Shane Beamer has made a few adjustments of his own to the football facility, with one in particular standing out. Every coach’s office has a picture of their family on the wall next to their name. Most of the coaches have kids in the same school where Beamer sends his kids. It’s a family community that isn’t lost on the head coach.
“I want out coaches to attend as many of their kid’s events as possible,” Beamer said. “All of them are welcomed at the facility, sometimes they’ll take over the player’s lounge. I need my coaches to be in the right head space, and spending time outside the facility with family is key. There has to be a balance in this life of coaching,”
Whether it be a baseball game or a dance recital, coaches get the opportunity to sneak-off when they have the time. We’ve gotten to a point in college football where we’re seeing some coaches get out of the game due to enjoyment of life. But for Beamer, he wants his coaches around family as much as possible, knowing it will only benefit them in the long term.
The way he showed up for his son on Friday is the same attitude he brings to his players and coaches. Having a family atmosphere is critical for the success of the Gamecock program, on and off the field.
It was 2:45 in the afternoon and a meeting with the SEC Network was next up for Beamer. He filled them in on what to expect during the spring game. Next, it was a 3:45 teleconference with a Boy Scout group he was speaking with in Chattanooga later in the month. At 4 p.m., it was a staff meeting to discuss practice and Saturday’s game, then it was off to a cocktail hour with donors at 5:15.
The work never stops for a head coach in college football, especially one who is trying to build something in the SEC that not many expected to have this much juice at the moment.
After the cocktail hour, Beamer met his family for dinner, knowing the next 24 hours will be filled with football and recruiting. For a coach in his third season leading a program, Shane Beamer is figuring out how to be successful, one crazy day at a time.