It’s a staple of every coach’s introductory press conference. They all say how much they love being here, how they know this school can win, how they only wanted this job and nothing else. That’s as much a part of college football as saying that holding can be called on every play.
Yet when Shane Beamer said it as he was being introduced as South Carolina’s new football coach …
It was how he had to pause and compose himself when discussing how much Columbia and USC meant to his wife and family. It was how he posed for the standard hiring-day pictures inside the stadium but didn’t have the usual grip-and-grin smile, instead wearing a wistful, proud, tranquil expression.
It was how a man who has lived and coached in college towns like Blacksburg, Atlanta, Knoxville, Starkville, Athens and Norman, all of which have seen more success than Columbia has, took about a day before he changed the program’s unofficial slogan to “Welcome Home.”
His emotional arrival makes it easy to believe Beamer when he labels USC his dream job, and make no mistake: He feels his team can make its fans’ championship dreams come true.
“Some personal reasons, for sure, then just professional — to me, you have every resource here that you need to win championships,” Beamer says about his decision to take the job. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Bold talk, and some would say foolish talk. This is USC.
Yes, that one, the one people snicker about and label “USC East,” even though the school was founded before that other USC even had a state to call home. The one that has earned the scorn in football for posting a mere 615–594–44 record in 127 seasons. The one that has won one conference championship across 78 years of memberships in three leagues and has been in the neighborhood of a national championship just once.
But Beamer was bitten by the same bug that has snagged many over the decades. Football success hasn’t been anywhere near a constant, but Columbia and USC have a pull. It’s hard to leave once you’re ingrained.
“My wife and I got married in Starkville, Miss., and after less than a year of marriage, we moved to Columbia. So this is really kind of the first place we lived as a married couple, in our minds,” Beamer says of his first stint at USC, from 2007-10. “We drove over to Columbia to look around. Coach (Steve) Spurrier had already offered me the job. Drove around the next day looking for a house, and little did we know that those four years would be four of the greatest years of our lives.”
None of his three children had been born. Spurrier had gotten off to a grand start in Columbia, but in Beamer’s first year, 2007, a 6–1 start cratered to a 6–6 finish and no bowl game. The Gamecocks are one of five SEC teams never to win the league football championship (joining fellow expansion-istas Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M and charter member Vanderbilt), and Beamer and the rest of the staff were feeling it the most acutely right then.
Yet he trusted it would get better, and it did. Beamer was promoted to recruiting coordinator in 2009, and his efforts helped set a foundation for the best four years Gamecock football has ever seen. From 2010-13, USC won 42 games, earned its only SEC East Division championship and posted the best three-season stretch in school history, going 11–2 each year from 2011-13.
The names Beamer helped land were instrumental in that run. Stephon Gilmore. Alshon Jeffery. D.J. Swearinger. Marcus Lattimore. Connor Shaw.
And the day Beamer announced he was leaving USC to join his father Frank Beamer’s staff at Virginia Tech — Valentine’s Day 2011 — he managed to give the Gamecocks one final gift: the commitment of the country’s No. 1 recruit, Jadeveon Clowney.
Almost all of those players and many more publicly endorsed Beamer for the USC job when Will Muschamp was fired on Nov. 15, and when athletics director Ray Tanner held a Zoom call with more than three dozen lettermen, all of them said the same thing: That’s your guy.
Tanner, a resident of Columbia since 1996 and the coach who led the school’s baseball team to consecutive national championships, knew how far behind the Gamecocks had fallen in competing for football success, and he knew how that status was viewed by other candidates. To have a candidate who clearly wanted the job was a welcome development.
“He has a tremendous desire to be here, and it did not just start when I made the phone call to him about becoming a candidate in this search process,” Tanner says. “It’s been evident for a long time.”
Beamer recalls coming to Columbia for a 1987 game as a 10-year-old helping run cable for his father’s headset on the Virginia Tech sideline. The Gamecocks won 40–10.
The elder Beamer once was an assistant coach at The Citadel, and Shane was born in Charleston. Shane says that the late Mike McGee, former South Carolina AD, once interviewed his father to be the Gamecocks’ head coach.
He also says that once he met wife Emily, he knew that all roads would eventually lead back to the SEC. She’s a native of Starkville, home of Mississippi State, and during his introduction, he gave a shout-out to his in-laws, saying that they probably never dreamed they’d see him live on the SEC Network one day, accepting a head-coaching job in the best football league in the country.
Beamer could have been a head coach before. He turned down Richmond in 2011 and says he declined other offers.
No one could say he was simply waiting for USC to open, but the Gamecocks left an impression. The names of players he recruited are plastered on the ramps of Williams-Brice Stadium, and the 2010 division title he was part of is also memorialized in a façade in the south end zone.
“He’s had opportunities to go to some places, and didn’t think it was quite right,” Frank Beamer says. “He knows what that program is and was looking so forward to going back to it.”
It was former USC players telling him they wanted him. It was driving home from Oklahoma football practice in December, receiving a text from his children asking if he was coming home, then walking into the house five minutes later with the unofficial Gamecock anthem “Sandstorm” blaring and his 7-year-old son twirling a USC T-shirt around his head.
It was walking out of his home office in Norman after a call with Tanner the night of Dec. 5, facing his family’s eager and hopeful expressions. A tearful nod confirmed that they wouldn’t be crestfallen.
Neither would he. Shane Beamer’s home.
“I’ve said it before, and it’s true: ‘Tell me what we’re missing.’ Because I haven’t found it yet. That’s why,” Beamer says. “Because you can win here, and you can be really, really happy here from a personal standpoint and win a lot of football games in the process.”
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