What Shane Beamer can learn from Gus Malzahn about dealing with an in-state superpower
Once Shane Beamer set foot in Columbia, I like to imagine that he took a peak northwest on I-26. He might not have been able to see Goliath Clemson from where he stood, but you can bet that he felt the presence of the powerhouse program.
When Beamer took the microphone for his first press conference as South Carolina’s head coach, he spoke of Clemson. Well, not directly.
“You mentioned that program in the upstate,” Beamer said in response to Clemson’s recent success (via 247sports). “They are certainly on a pretty good run right now, but when I was here, we were on a pretty dang good run ourselves, against those guys as well.
“It’s a big challenge and we are going to work every single day recruiting and in this facility to have a team we can be proud of on the field. That will result in how we play on the field. I certainly have great respect for those guys and looking forward to getting in there and competing. I know that for a fact.”
Strong words. Beamer knows it’ll take more than speaking of Clemson like the wizarding world speaks of Voldemort to get on that level. If Clemson is “he who must not be named,” then South Carolina is the moppy-haired Hogwarts student who’s tasked with taking down the dark lord.
It’s not that much different than what another current SEC coach walked into 8 years ago. Gus Malzahn knows a bit about walking into a Power 5 program with another in-state dynasty in full swing. Malzahn was the guy who inherited the team that went 0-8 in SEC play while Alabama was the program that won 3 national titles in the previous 4 years. Beamer is the guy who inherited a 2-win SEC program while Clemson is the program who played in the national championship in 4 of the last 5 years.
Beamer can learn a thing or 2 from Malzahn about dealing with that, both good and bad.
Like, Beamer shouldn’t do what Malzahn did this past weekend. That is, get smoked against your in-state rival and then follow that up with a home loss by double digits to another division foe … only to then talk about why a “solid year” was still on the table with a win in the regular-season finale to get to 6-4. Malzahn since explained those comments, but he took a PR beating.
If Beamer gets trucked by Clemson — something that seems somewhat likely in Year 1 — don’t use the word “solid” to describe the season. South Carolina fans want to hear that goals weren’t achieved because of that Clemson loss.
Oops. My bad. I meant “that program in the upstate.”
An area where Beamer should follow in Malzahn’s footsteps is staying true to himself. Malzahn didn’t come into the Auburn job and try to recreate what Nick Saban had built. Other than that straw hat that both of them seem to love, you won’t find anyone confusing Malzahn for Saban. Whether it’s his coaching style, a player he recruits or the things he says publicly, Beamer can’t do something because Dabo Swinney does it. At the same time, Beamer doesn’t have to be the anti-Swinney, either. There’s a balance.
Maybe just, you know, punt on accusing a team of intentionally backing out of a matchup and then don’t double and triple-down on that message. Just a thought.
The message to Beamer should be simple — you do you, whatever that is. If that’s being the fun, energetic guy that South Carolina players loved back when you were the special teams coach for Steve Spurrier, be that. If that’s being the older, more measured coach who has a new approach after working under Lincoln Riley, be that.
In the same way that Malzahn didn’t have to take digs at Alabama like Tommy Tuberville did in order to get Auburn back on the right track, Beamer doesn’t need to take digs at rivals like Steve Spurrier did in order to get South Carolina back on the right track.
Part of the reason Beamer stood out in the interview process was because of his extensive background of coaches he worked with. It’ll be interesting to see what pieces Beamer takes from each of the legendary coaches he worked with. Yeah, Beamerball would be a fun thing to bring to South Carolina. I mean, it’s already in the name. Stay true to that.
Malzahn, for better or worse, stayed true to his hurry-up offense. It might not have yielded him another season quite like that magical Year 1, but it did yield 3 victories against Saban. Maybe it’ll be some special teams plays that result in multiple South Carolina wins against Clemson.
Dang. I did it again. “That program in the upstate.”
As Beamer said, it wasn’t that long ago that South Carolina was the team to beat in the Palmetto State. As he knows, much has changed since that time. Even Malzahn had to process how much things had changed in the 1 year he spent away from Auburn in 2012. It might’ve sounded weird for the coach taking over a team that didn’t win an SEC game to talk about championships, but Malzahn didn’t shy away from it. He also didn’t make the mistake of saying “we know all things roll through Tuscaloosa” during his opening press conference.
Goodness, what a blunder that would’ve been. I’m pretty sure Jay Jacobs would’ve revoked the offer on the spot and he would’ve taken the first jet out of Auburn to hand Kirby Smart a $5 million check.
Beating Swinney’s program every year isn’t a realistic goal, but it is the standard. In the same way that Malzahn isn’t expected to beat Alabama every year, a win against the Crimson Tide has always been the sign of a, for lack of a better word, “solid” season on the Plains.
Oh, and if those wins against the Tigers (the ones from “that program in the upstate”) do happen, do something else that Malzahn did. Cash in. Immediately. There’s no bigger bargaining chip for a human being in the state of South Carolina than going to your boss with the ability to say “I beat Dabo multiple times.” And so what if fans then spend years searching the terms of your buyout more often than they check their email. It comes with the territory.
Something tells me that Beamer knew all of this. He understands the area. He knows what he walked into. He signed up for his dream job.
Nobody is going to have to tell him how important it is to narrow the gap between South Carolina and Clemson.
No matter what Beamer wants to call them, that program in the upstate is going to follow him wherever he goes.