Shane Beamer didn’t seem distracted. He was talking one recent spring day about how excited the South Carolina fan base was, how energetic his players had been, what an era of great feelings it was … when he had to stop.
“Can I call you back in five minutes? I got my identity stolen,” Beamer said. “I’ve got to run into this investigator’s office.”
Now here the great angle would be that Beamer is so popular in South Carolina these days that people are pretending to be him. The real story is much more innocent: Someone used Beamer’s social security number to file their taxes, and the authorities are pretty sure it was an honest mistake. But the rest is true, even if Beamer’s popularity doesn’t absolve him from daily chores like carpooling his kids to school, grabbing coffee and fixing the occasional identity theft.
Last year the mood in Columbia was optimistic because Beamer hadn’t coached a game yet, and he was a somewhat familiar face. Four years as an assistant under Steve Spurrier before going to work for his father, Frank Beamer, then Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley, and finally back to Columbia as the man who enthusiastically wanted the job.
A year later, Beamer says he hears even more excitement, or hears from former players, who have come up to him and said they’ve “never been this excited about South Carolina football.” That may be skewed a bit by recency bias, considering Spurrier’s hiring was 17 years ago. Even Lou Holtz’s hiring before that gave the fan base a jolt of legitimacy and national buzz.
The difference this time is it’s coming after tangible progress: Spurrier’s first few years in Columbia, even he will tell you, weren’t as good as the latter years. (Spurrier went 7-5 his first year, but didn’t reach the nine-win mark until his sixth season.) Holtz went 0-11 his first year at South Carolina in 1999.
Beamer, however, took over a program that had just gone 2-8, was picked to finish sixth in its division — ahead of only Vanderbilt — then went 7-6, including wins over Florida, Auburn and North Carolina, and was competitive in a couple of the losses.
“I was very outspoken about why I wanted to be here, and how much I love this place. And it’s true,” Beamer said. “And I think our fans feel that way. I’ve had a lot of them tell me that: ‘We love that you’re from South Carolina, you’re one of us and want to be here.’ So I think that’s (where it) starts. They know I’m not just somebody who sees this as a job, it’s where I really want to be.”
The challenge then is having an encore, and keeping it going. Nick Saban and Smart actually went backward in their first years at Alabama and Georgia, installing a new culture and other things. Does going the other way prove fool’s gold, something elusive?
And as nice as South Carolina’s season was last year, its in-state rival is still Clemson, and its SEC border rival just won the national championship. The Gamecocks took a step forward last year, but many steps forward would still need to be taken to reach those levels.