It’s midday, Oct. 17, 1987. The South Carolina sky is a vibrant blue, the temperature hovering around 73 degrees. The Gamecock football team is getting pumped for a 1:30 kickoff while 73,150 excited fans make their way toward Williams-Brice Stadium.
Gamecocks of a certain age will remember a few names from the era. Head Coach Joe Morrison was calling the plays. Future radio announcer Todd Ellis was taking snaps at quarterback. Wide receiver Sterling Sharpe was setting school records for receptions and receiving yards. Tailback Harold Green was busting tackles.
Gamecocks of a certain age will also remember the pregame traffic. I-77 didn’t connect to Bluff Road in 1987, so come gameday, every man, woman and child bound for the stadium had to pass through the center of town, many of them crammed onto one of the dozens of buses that chugged south down Assembly Street like an army convoy headed to battle.
But one particular Gamecock of a certain age remembers the gameday excitement of that particular afternoon better than almost anyone — and he wasn’t even a Gamecock yet. He was in Columbia to cheer on Virginia Tech.
His name, of course, was Shane Beamer. He was 10 years old at the time, on his way to his first big-time college football road game, traveling with his dad. And Dad, of course, was future College Hall of Famer and Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer, then in his very first year coaching the Hokies.
Thirty-six years later, sitting behind his desk at USC’s Long Family Football Operations Center, Shane Beamer looks back on his first visit to the Capital City and his first exposure to Williams-Brice with something greater than nostalgia. He’s a 46-year-old head football coach looking back at a formative moment through the gobsmacked eyes of a football-obsessed 10-year-old boy.
And what those 10-year-old eyes see more clearly than anything else is that long line of buses shuttling excited Gamecock fans to the game.
“I remember we had a police escort,” he recalls, “and all these buses came down Assembly Street in the opposite lane — because, you know, they shut down the road.” His eyes widen as he pictures the scene in his mind. “And I’m 10 years old. I’m like ‘Oh. My. God.’ And then you go into a stadium like that? It just really resonated with me at that young age.”
The Right Coach
Coming into the 2023 season, his third as the Gamecocks’ head coach, Shane Beamer is right where he wants to be, where he wanted to be for a long time. His sights may not have been set on the garnet and black as he watched Dad’s Virginia Tech team fall to Morrison’s Gamecocks back in ’87 — 10-year-old Shane was all in for the Hokies, understandably — but even then, South Carolina was a topic of conversation in the Beamer household.
“We just had this feeling about the University of South Carolina,” says Beamer, who was born in Charleston while his dad was defensive coordinator at The Citadel. “My dad always talked about how he felt South Carolina was this program that could do amazing things if they got the right coach in there.”
In fact, Frank Beamer could well have been that “right coach.” Before South Carolina hired Lou Holtz in 1998, the revered Virginia Tech coach was on the shortlist of candidates courted by then-Athletics Director Mike McGee. Shane Beamer, by that point a wide receiver-turned-long snapper for the Hokies, remembers McGee sitting in his family’s Blacksburg kitchen, talking up the Gamecocks.
“He came up to Blacksburg and interviewed my dad for the job because my dad had coached at The Citadel,” says Beamer. “I just always heard about South Carolina growing up.”
And South Carolina never left Beamer’s mind. Not really. Sure, he made a few stops before he finally returned to Williams-Brice in a professional capacity — graduate assistantships at Georgia Tech and Tennessee, a cornerbacks coach position and then a recruiting coordinator position under Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State — but when he joined Steve Spurrier’s coaching staff at South Carolina in 2007, the “amazing things” Dad talked about when Shane was a kid came quickly into focus.
“When I got here professionally, I loved it because I saw that you could win football games here at a high level,” he says. “We played for an SEC championship. We beat Alabama. We beat Georgia. We beat Tennessee. We beat Florida.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “We beat Clemson.”
The 10-year gap between his time as South Carolina’s outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator under Spurrier and his current role as the Gamecocks’ head coach seems to close in real time.
“We did all these great things,” he says. “I saw that you could be successful here.”
Beamer Ball 2.0
When Shane Beamer talks about possibilities for success, it’s hard not to buy in. It’s also hard not to buy into the core values he preaches to his players, coaches and staff. His confident demeanor and his positive attitude lace up right before your eyes.
“We have the core values posted in our team meeting rooms,” he says. “Love. Gratitude. Positive energy. Trust. Toughness. Accountability. Competition. Any time I can point to a word on a wall in front of the team and give an example of it, I do. It could be something that happened on the field, or it could be something in academics.”
It’s not unheard of for a coach to post motivational words, phrases and reminders around the locker room. It’s also not unheard of for a coach to quote those words, phrases and reminders to his team. Or his staff. Or even the media. The question, really, is does he walk the walk? And who catches flak if he doesn’t?
“I have those values in my mind constantly, and I try and hold myself accountable for all those things as well,” Beamer promises, and you still can’t help but believe him. “I hope that other people would call me out if I didn’t. I don’t want them to be just words on a wall that don’t mean anything.”
That winsome attitude is a big reason Beamer — who served as the Gamecocks' recruiting coordinator back in 2009 and 2010 — was able to help sign some of the marquee players of the Spurrier era, players like Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, D.J. Swearinger, Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw. And it’s a big reason he continues to recruit competitively now that he’s the head coach.
It’s also a big reason Gamecock fans have been so quick to embrace Shane Beamer’s version of Beamer Ball, the style of play preached, practiced and perfected by Frank Beamer over 29 seasons at Virginia Tech. And while Shane Beamer never asked for the term associated with his dad to now be applied to him, he’s honored — his word — to pick up the mantle.
He even remembers the first time it happened, what it meant to him then and how the term has evolved since.
“It was my very first game at Oklahoma. I was coaching special teams and tight ends and we blocked a punt for a touchdown,” he says. “I remember then people saying, you know, ‘Beamer Ball comes to Oklahoma,’ stuff like that. That’s probably the first time I really heard it. That was pretty cool. And then it really took off once I got hired as the head coach here.”
And no wonder. Beamer Ball in the Shane Beamer era at South Carolina translated quickly into on-field success. And while there’s still work to be done, it’s hard to argue with the headlines, not to mention the enthusiasm. You could also just look at the Gamecocks’ win column over the past two years.
In 2021, Beamer’s first year back at South Carolina, the Gamecocks exceeded expectations, upsetting Florida and Auburn, then beat North Carolina 38-21 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Last year, they beat No. 13 Kentucky 24-14 on the road, demolished No. 5 Tennessee 63-38 in front of a raucous Williams-Brice crowd and then, well, who can forget the Gamecocks 31-30 victory over Clemson the very next week — at Death Valley?
Indeed, entering year three, Beamer Ball seems to have taken on a broader, almost metaphorical meaning at South Carolina. For if the phrase as originally used at Virginia Tech meant capitalizing on special teams and non-offensive touchdowns, Shane Beamer’s version has become shorthand for something broader: the attitude shift happening within the South Carolina program and among its fan base.
“I think it starts on the field, with the excitement that Beamer Ball has created in Williams-Brice Stadium,” Beamer explains. “But I hope that the energy that has been created spreads beyond that. I speak to a lot of Gamecock clubs, I bump into a lot of Gamecocks all over the state, and so many of them talk about the excitement they feel right now, and that’s very humbling to hear.”
Blacksburg and Back
After all the childhood memories, all the big wins under Spurrier, all the talk about core values and building a culture and what a great place South Carolina really is, you may be wondering one thing: Why on Earth did Shane Beamer ever leave?
The answer, it turns out, is straightforward. It’s also admirable, a reflection of his personal core values and the prominent role that family plays in Beamer’s life.
“I wanted to work with my dad before his career was over,” he says. “And then, not that I saw the end of Coach Spurrier’s era coming, but you know, Coach Spurrier’s a year older than my dad. So I just felt like, you know what? I’ll go back to Blacksburg and work for him.”
It was a tough decision, and not just because he was enjoying that phase of his coaching career. He and his wife, Emily, had put down roots in Columbia and enjoyed what the city had to offer as well.
“Emily and I got married in June of ’06 and we moved here in February of ’07, so this was really the first place that she and I lived together away from her hometown,” Beamer explains. “And we had a fantastic time here. I think Columbia is an awesome city because it’s a college town but it’s a capital city, and then it’s so close to the beach and to the mountains. And we had a good group of friends here.”
And then, of course, two of their three children — daughters Sutton and Olivia — were born in Columbia, further connecting the Beamer family to the community. (Their son, Hunter, was born a few years later in Blacksburg.)
But tough decisions are often the right decisions when they’re made for the right reasons. Shane Beamer ended up coaching alongside Dad at Virginia Tech for five seasons, starting in 2011, then spent time on the coaching staffs at Georgia and Oklahoma. He has zero regrets about seizing any of those opportunities.
Besides, there was one more big reason he left South Carolina when he did. It may have meant three more assistant coaching stops and a decade away from the Palmetto State, but when he finally got the call from Athletics Director Ray Tanner inviting him back, it felt almost like fate.
“I remember telling my wife, honest to God, ‘If I ever want to be the head coach here at South Carolina, we probably need to leave in order to come back,’ he says. “And, you know, it was the best decision that we’ve made. It was so hard to leave because we did love it here. But it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to work out."
Gamecocks who knew Shane Beamer when he was an assistant coach and recruitment coordinator at South Carolina reflect on his impact
If you want to know about a coach, ask the players he coached. And if you want to know about that coach’s character, ask the players who exhibit the same.
In Shane Beamer’s case, that meant reaching out, first, to Marcus Lattimore. The legendary Gamecock running back now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works in theater production and serves as a part-time mentor at Lewis and Clark College.
When Lattimore was being recruited out of high school, he was one of the best running back prospects in the country — and Beamer was part of the recruiting team that made him a Gamecock. Asked for his first impressions of the man who would be coach, Lattimore hammers it home: “Passion. Passion. Passion. Passion.”
And what else? “His walk,” says Lattimore. “I mean, his walk is just — it’s unique. He walks with a purpose everywhere he goes. And he had that same walk 12 years ago.”
What Lattimore remembers most clearly, though, is Beamer’s attention to detail as the Gamecocks’ special teams coordinator — “How he saw everything about you.” He recounts an experience from training camp in August 2010, his freshman year, that he says helped give him the confidence to compete in the SEC.
“We’re in the team meeting room, watching special teams together because everybody plays special teams, and he kind of circles me and singles me out on a particular drill that we had been doing,” Lattimore explains. “He’s showing everybody the detail of how I dip my shoulder, the detail of how I dip my knee — it was empowering as a freshman to hear that in front of the whole group. Just the way he spoke to you, it was always empowering.”
But it’s not enough to say who Beamer is. Lattimore also emphasizes who Beamer isn’t.
“There was never a time where he was belittling you,” he says. “Some coaches do that, you know. Heck, it works for some coaches. But that’s just not him.”
Every Gamecock fan knows the name Marcus Lattimore. Relatively few know Walker Inabinet. But for a long snapper, Inabinet jokes, that’s a compliment: “If nobody knows who you are, that means you’re doing your job, right?”
Well, yes and no. In 2010, Inabinet was a redshirt sophomore and started just one game. But while fans weren’t paying much attention to the guy snapping the ball to the punter that day against Troy State, Shane Beamer was.
“I remember it was my first snap as a Gamecock, and it was a good snap,” he says. “So I run down the field, I think I even got in on the tackle. Then right after the play, my first true play on the field, Coach Beamer’s out there, right on the hashes, giving me a big hug, congratulating me.”
Maybe it helped that Beamer had been a long snapper himself. Maybe it helped that it was the redshirt sophomore’s first play. Whatever. The memory stuck.
“You know, they have the word ‘love’ posted around the football facility now,” Inabinet says. “And it’s not just something they put out there as a recruiting tool. That truly is what he’s about.”
But Beamer is also about motivation, and Inabinet has fond memories in that department, too. The former long snapper is now a vice president and wealth management advisor for Merrill Lynch in Columbia, but he remembers very clearly trying to keep pace with his coach — and his coach’s enthusiasm — more than a decade ago.
“At kickoff team practice they time you running down the field,” he explains. “Coach Beamer would be out there in that kickoff line sprinting down the field as fast as he could, kind of racing, trying to beat you, trying to beat everybody. That’s just the kind of coach he is. He’s not somebody to stay on the sidelines with a whistle. Everybody kind of rallies around him because of that.”
After his time with the Gamecocks, kicker and onetime team captain Spencer Lanning ended up playing three seasons in the NFL, mostly for the Cleveland Browns. But he never really banked on going pro. At the end of his college career, he wasn’t really banking on anything.
“Leaving the program as a senior, you wonder what’s next, right? Because at the end of the day I didn’t expect to make it to the NFL,” he says. “But then I remember talking to Coach Beamer about what life was going to look like after football. We were warming up before the SEC championship game, and I said, ‘Hey, coach, did you know exactly what you wanted to do when you left Virginia Tech?’”
The answer surprised him: “He told me he tried to sell insurance for a while, but his heart just wasn’t in it!”
Lanning was shocked. Like a lot of people, he assumed Beamer’s path from player to college coach was preordained. Shane Beamer’s dad, after all, was Virginia Tech coaching legend Frank Beamer. Now here he was on the sideline at the Georgia Dome, telling his soon-to-be ex-kicker about life’s funny bounces and how things ultimately have a way of working out.
“Just to hear Coach Beamer say that to me had a profound effect on my life,” he says. “The big take away at that moment was that not knowing what the next step is, you’re still going to be OK.”
And he is. After a few years in the NFL, Lanning and his wife relocated to upstate New York, where they now run several Subway restaurants.
“We own a company up here and have 125 employees,” he says. “I’m not coaching football, but, you know, I am coaching. I’m leading. I’m in that same role. It’s just not the path I expected.”
Lead photo and Carolinian cover by Kim Truett. Additional images courtesy of University of South Carolina Athletics.