Why Shane Beamer already has the QB position figured out better than his predecessor
When Shane Beamer realized that Luke Doty was going to be sidelined in the first part of the 2021 season, he called up a pair of coaches at Oklahoma. One was an obvious candidate to bounce an atypical quarterback idea off of. It was Lincoln Riley, AKA the guy who had 2 Heisman Trophy winners and a Heisman runner-up in a 3-year stretch. Beamer had worked on Riley’s staff before he got his first head coaching gig at South Carolina in 2021.
The other Oklahoma coach Beamer called was Ryan Hybl, AKA the Oklahoma men’s golf coach who had coached 23 All-Americans and made 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Unorthodox? Sure, but Beamer was seeking advice to a question that most first-time head coaches aren’t faced with ahead of their debuts. Any and all guidance was welcome.
“I was like, ‘Is this a crazy thing to bring our graduate assistant onto the field to potentially be our starting quarterback?’” Beamer said in a recent interview with SDS.
And that’s how the Zeb Noland story was born.
Noland was 1 of 3 South Carolina quarterbacks to start multiple games in Beamer’s first season on the job. Under the Will Muschamp regime, that alone would’ve yielded a disappointing season. With Beamer, it yielded a 7-win season that soared past expectations.
It also yielded the commitment of former Heisman Trophy candidate Spencer Rattler, who knew Beamer from their days together at Oklahoma. South Carolina never had a 5-star quarterback on its roster, even in the Steve Spurrier days.
Beamer has a ways to go to show that he’s better at understanding the quarterback position than the Head Ball Coach. But just 16 months into his time at South Carolina, we can already declare that he’s better at handling a quarterback room than his predecessor.
Sure, the bar was relatively low. And some would question how Beamer already showed he’s got a more competent approach to evaluating quarterbacks after a season in which the Gamecocks were 13th out of 14 SEC teams in passing.
You see, when you inherit a 2-win team ranked No. 125 out of 127 FBS teams in percentage of returning production, the bar is low. When you’re at a program that has never had an All-SEC quarterback or a drafted quarterback as a member of the SEC, yeah, that bar is really low.
Close your eyes and picture Muschamp saying something like this about the significance of having a guy at quarterback. (Spoiler alert — you can’t picture that.)
“It’s huge. You’ve gotta have that,” Beamer said. “I don’t care what level you are. NFL, college, high school, you’ve gotta have a great quarterback. It’s proven. You look at the best teams in the NFL, they’ve got a quarterback. You look at the LA Rams, no disrespect to Jared Goff, but you bring in Matthew Stafford and they win a Super Bowl. All the teams across the NFL that are trying to sign a quarterback in free agency.
“Certainly when you have a great quarterback, it makes everything better. The spirit of the practices, the confidence, the way that the defense is challenged, the way that the offense is able to produce. It’s just a key position unlike anything else in sports.”
Yep. It is.
It’s why you have to be aggressive when an opportunity presents itself to take a risk and pluck a talent like Rattler, much like Beamer referenced with the Rams trading for Stafford.
It’s why you have to be willing to make a tough decision within a game, like benching your QB1 for the aforementioned grad assistant down late in the final minutes at home against Vanderbilt.
(Beamer was fully aware that he was getting blasted if that move blew up in his face. He relies on former Ball State head coach and current associate head coach/special teams coordinator Pete Lembo to help make a lot of in-game decisions, though that one was still Beamer’s call.)
Muschamp’s issue wasn’t ever landing blue-chip quarterbacks, though obviously none of them ever had Rattler’s projection. Development and stubbornness were Muschamp’s well-documented shortcomings at Florida and South Carolina.
It’s incredible to think that the first 6 QB recruits rated 4-stars or better that Will Muschamp all transferred:
Dakereon Joyner switched positions and Ryan Hilinski/Luke Doty are TBD.
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) April 28, 2020
(That tweet was heading into Muschamp’s final season at South Carolina.)
Add Ryan Hilinski to that group, as well. So to recap, 8 of the 9 quarterbacks rated 4-stars or better that Muschamp signed all finished their careers at different schools or changed positions. Doty is the lone non-transfer/position-changer of that group as he enters 2022 likely as Rattler’s backup.
But even with Joyner, you could make that case that Beamer and Marcus Satterfield found more ways to maximize his offensive potential than Muschamp ever did.
— SportsGrid (@SportsGrid) December 30, 2021
That play, of course, helped yield Beamer’s postgame mayo dump seen ’round the world.
By the way, that was the first touchdown pass Joyner threw in 4 years at South Carolina. The first 3 of those were spent on Muschamp-coached teams, wherein the conversation about Joyner was about whether he was switching to receiver full-time or playing quarterback.
Indecisiveness at quarterback hurt Muschamp at key junctures. We saw him waffle with quarterbacks at Florida when he rolled out a 2-quarterback system with Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Instead of determining a winner, here’s what Muschamp said the week of Florida’s 2012 opener (via Jacksonville.com):
“Both guys are very even, and our football team’s got great confidence in both of them,” Muschamp said. “I told both of them today, the last position I’m worried about is quarterback. I feel very comfortable about both guys. We will determine who will take the first snap this week as we work through the week. I haven’t made that decision. How we will rotate the guys, we will continue to discuss that, Brent (Pease) and I, as we work through the week. But we feel very confident in both guys.”
You know how things played out for Driskel and Brissett. That season, Driskel eventually became the full-time starter for a Florida team that had the worst Power 5 passing game in the country (excluding triple-option Georgia Tech). Driskel and Brissett both ultimately transferred and became NFL quarterbacks after escaping Muschamp.
At South Carolina, Muschamp thought he had his guy in Bentley. That’s when Muschamp was incorrectly definitive. When an injured Bentley gave way to Michael Scarnecchia against Mizzou in 2018, a previously struggling South Carolina offense put up 37 points to avoid a 1-3 start to SEC play. Scarnecchia threw for 249 yards and 3 touchdown passes … only to return to the bench and throw 4 more passes the rest of his college career. Instead, Bentley returned to the starting lineup.
That was the last time in the Muschamp era that South Carolina scored 31 points against an FBS team at Williams-Brice Stadium. Also of note, Muschamp still coached at South Carolina for another 2-plus seasons.
That streak finally ended on Nov. 6 this past year when Beamer’s squad demolished Florida 40-17. Fittingly, the biggest win of his first season came after injuries forced him to start his third different quarterback (FCS transfer Jason Brown) in Year 1.
After that game, Beamer had 200-plus texts waiting for him. There were probably a few from the various programs he worked at before getting his first head coaching gig at South Carolina. On that night, long gone were the questions about how Beamer would handle quarterback battles even though he had never been an FBS coordinator or head coach. So far, Beamer has taken that in stride.
On the left side of his office desk at the South Carolina facility, there’s a note with a mantra that Beamer reminds himself of frequently.
“When you’re in this chair, you have to love making tough decisions.”
It’s safe to say that Beamer enjoys sitting in that seat more than the one with an imminent mayo dump.