More than most, Steve Taneyhill knows what South Carolina can be — both the good and the bad. As quarterback at South Carolina from 1992-95, he led the Gamecocks to their first bowl win in school history. From afar as a high school football coach in the state, Taneyhill has watched the highs of the Steve Spurrier era and the lows of the 1-21 stretch in 1998-99.
Taneyhill may be best known as one of the more colorful personalities in SEC history. Think of him as a pre-Johnny Manziel figure, just with a blond mullet.
Taneyhill appeared on the 1995 cover of Athlon Sports and since then has coached state title winners and first-round draft picks in South Carolina high schools. From his perspective as the coach of Union High, Taneyhill shared his thoughts of where the Gamecocks can go from here in the post-Spurrier era.
How much have you stayed involved with South Carolina?
When Spurrier got the job, he called me that first week and wanted me to come back around a little bit more. When (Lou) Holtz was there, he didn’t do that with former players. I think because I played when Coach Spurrier was at Florida and started four games against him and he heard maybe the rumblings that former players weren’t welcome, he invited me to come basically anytime I wanted. I started to go back when I could, but it’s hard during the season. I went for bowl practices and clinics and spoke to the team on numerous occasions. Pretty much anytime I’m around, Coach Spurrier welcomes me. We’re friends. I’ve gotten to know the staff because of that. There was a time when Brad Lawing (former South Carolina assistant, now defensive ends/outside linebackers coach at Florida State) was the only one I knew because he was there when I was there. But I’ve come to know G.A. (Mangus) and (Shawn) Elliott and (Steve Spurrier) Junior and those guys.
What was your relationship with Spurrier when you were a player, if any?
That was one of the weeks I always ventured down to the defensive rooms just to see the things they were doing because what he was doing at Florida was really and truly the first time that stuff in the passing game had started. My senior year, John Reaves, came to be our offensive coordinator. He had been at Florida, so we started running a lot of the same stuff. Even today, I call a couple of plays the same as they call them at Carolina because I got them from Coach Reaves who was with Spurrier.
What did you think when you heard the news that Spurrier had retired from South Carolina? Were you surprise that it happened or at least the way it happened?
I was surprised. I was down there last year during the bowl practice and talked to coach a little bit, and I thought after the bowl win he seemed excited. He had a little of that fire back. Coach Spurrier visited my school one day in January and we talked for a bit. I hadn’t saw him, and I figured everything was good. But as a fan, I hate to watch the game this Saturday and not see him on the sideline.
From your perspective as a high school coach in South Carolina or other coaches that you’ve talked to, is South Carolina at a crossroads? How do you view where South Carolina is going to go from here?
I have a player on my team who has been offered by South Carolina, a junior wide receiver (Shi Smith), he’s probably the top junior in the state. I have been witnessing his recruitinment. They offered my guy in the ninth grade. I don’t necessarily think it’s recruiting effort (that's missing). I think it’s recruiting (as in) who we sign. What we did in those 11-win seasons, we ought to be able to get on those national-level recruits. I don’t know where there at, but there not there. I just know how they recruit my guy, which is completely different because he’s an underclassman and the rules are different. I don’t think it’s effort in recruiting. It’s who we sign. Listening to Coach Spurrier and he said this is a recruiting business and he basically he said we need a younger guy. Recruiting is the lifeblood and if you don’t have it, it’s hard to compete in the SEC. We’ve got to sign some better guys. On offense, they ain’t got but one wideout that’s doing anything (Pharoh Cooper). On my team alone in high school, I’ve got five wideouts. I’m not saying they can play at South Carolina, but they can all play. I think wideout is one of the easier positions to recruit across the country just because everyone’s throwing the ball. I just look there and nothing against those other guys, but No. 11 is the only one making plays. I’m not down here, so I just don’t know. On offense, they don’t have many playmakers.
What is the recruiting landscape in South Carolina as far as where kids want to go?
I think the state of South Carolina every year has great defensive linemen and wideouts. You can find those kids in our state. Clemson’s not having any trouble getting wideouts. In our state, we have about 20 kids that go Division I and a lot of those kids play right away. As a kid here, when you get that letter, it’s not like in the state of Georgia, you’re looking for a letter from UGA. Here in South Carolina you’re waiting for both (South Carolina and Clemson) because the state is pretty much split. As a high school coach, I want a kid to go to Clemson or South Carolina. I want a kid to stay in the state. As a former Carolina player, I wish South Carolina would get the majority of the talent. It’s tough for me because I’ve lived two lives. I’m a high school coach, so I like everybody. I’ve never had a player play at South Carolina. I’ve had a player go to Clemson (the late Gaines Adams who played for Taneyhill at Cambridge Academy). I’m the coach who is this guy with everybody. And sometimes I’m the guy who played at South Carolina, so it’s a fine line.
How did you get into that double life and get into coaching?
It was definitely something I fell into. My dad was a basketball coach for 30 years, and my sister was a college basketball coach for 20 years. I never thought it would be me. I never thought I’d have enough patience to deal with it. Going back to when I played Arena Football, I got a call from a small private school in Greenwood, S.C., and they asked me if I’d be interested. I thought it would be better than playing Arena Football, so I gave it a shot. I kind of knew from the first day that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. It’s as close to playing as you can get. You’re still part of a team and have that competition every day and part of that routine that all athletes get into. I never thought I’d be a coach because of the patience that it takes to deal with players and parents and administrators. I’m happy that it happened.
When did you realize you had the patience to juggle all that?
I was in a great place at Cambridge Academy with great kids and great parents and a place that really wanted to win. We went 7-4 and everyone was excited and it just felt right. The next year we went 7-5 and made it one game further (in the playoffs) and the next year we won it all. You always want to get back to that. I’ve been fortunate to win it five times. That first year and seeing the kids and how excited they were, I had taken over a group that had never really won.
During your playing days you were known as a free spirit and trash talker, how do you feel when you watch a guy like Johnny Manziel when he was at Texas A&M or the reaction to Manziel?
I’ve been through it. That’s the first thing. You’re on a big stage as a young guy. He was having the time of his life having fun. Yeah, there was trash talk and celebrations and all that but it was just fun. A lot of people take a lot of things seriously — as long as you’re out there being successful and giving all that you’ve got. I was the same way. I’m going to battle and have fun at this thing. Now, there’s a lot more rules and you’ve got tone it down.
On a more serious note, Gaines Adams passed away five years ago. How has that changed your approach to the game? Adams was a defensive end at Cambridge Academy who signed at Clemson and was later selected No. 4 in the NFL Draft. Adams died Jan. 17, 2010 at age 26 due cardiac arrest caused by an enlarged heart.
I talked to my team just because of his story. Someone needs to tell that story. He was a guy no one looked at as a college football player or the fourth player in the draft, but he worked and didn’t take no for an answer and never backed down. That drove him. When it happened, it shook me pretty good because we were friends. I talked to him every Sunday when he was in college and every Monday when he was a pro player. What it did was, I always going to do my best to develop relationships with my players. It made me work a little harder to get to know all the kids because you never know when time’s up. In that situation, it was such a shock. After it was all said and done, I was in an OK place because we helped each other. I helped him and he helped me to become a better coach and understand the kids on a different level and get to know them better instead of being the guy on the field yelling at them all the time.