The Beamer Way
CLEMSON -- As he wrapped up his postgame press conference late Saturday night, Shane Beamer had a parting shot for the media.
"Thank you guys," he said. "Y'all are stuck with us for another month. So we'll see you this week, and we'll see ya at a bowl game. Sorry!"
His tone was part tongue-in-cheek, but part tongue sticking out at the naysayers who left Beamer's South Carolina team for dead a month earlier.
It reminded you a bit of the guy up in these parts, who has spent 13 seasons leading with a mix of wit and wagon-circling in the face of scrutiny.
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It's way too early to tell what will unfold in the Beamer era in Columbia. Maybe he's precisely the galvanizing force-of-nature presence needed for a program that has defined mediocrity over its existence. Or maybe he's in over his head and it doesn't work out.
But one thing is for sure, and an unmistakable plot line this week as Dabo Swinney prepares to welcome the former Gamecocks assistant back to the rivalry.
After years of ridiculing Clemson and its fans for the promotion of an inexperienced, outspoken, offbeat coach who was far from a conventional choice, South Carolina's answer to the failed Will Muschamp reign was the hire of an inexperienced, outspoken, offbeat coach who was far from a conventional choice.
There's a pile of examples to illustrate this, from the foundational emphasis on family to the holistic form of player development to the occasional outbursts in response to criticism.
In the second game they barely escaped East Carolina on the road and Beamer celebrated on the field like it was an SEC championship.
You're just not used to seeing that type of emotion out of head coaches, but just the same you could easily have pictured Swinney doing the same thing early in his tenure as he was trying to get the thing started.
Quite often perception doesn't square with reality, but it does seem the reality of the Muschamp era was what it looked like from a distance.
Muschamp was from the Nick Saban school and thus viewed it as more an organization than a culture that required nurturing. He also did seem to err in taking an adversarial, poke-the-bear approach toward Swinney and Clemson when the Tigers were a national championship program and Coach Boom had far smaller fish to fry. He just came off as, well, kind of a meathead.
Swinney has told us both publicly and privately over the years that there was never any big blowup between him and Muschamp, no real hate between the two at least from his perspective. Maybe it's more accurate to say there just wasn't much of a relationship there and leave it at that.
Whatever the case, it was clear from the moment Beamer was hired that this relationship is different. Swinney said more flattering, admiring things about him in three minutes than he did about Muschamp over the entirety of his time in Columbia. And Beamer returned the love by gushing over Swinney and the colossus he built in the foothills of South Carolina.
Of course, this week the goal of each coach is to beat the other's brains in. Swinney is two victories away from its 11th consecutive 10-win season, and this team is feeling the best about itself that it has all year after everything finally came together in Saturday's dismantling of Wake Forest. Beamer already has quite the first-year feathers in his cap with bowl eligibility and an unexpected fleecing of Florida, but a win over Clemson on his first try would put his sales pitch into hyperdrive.
As much as these two guys like each other, they like winning much more. So between the lines Saturday night, nothing will be much different and it'll be cutthroat competition.
But does it feel not just interesting but also somewhat important that they like each other? Maybe it leads to less nastiness off the field, and the snapshot at the top of mind right now is the storm of water bottles that descended from the Gamecocks' student section when things started going bad in 2017.
There's simply no place for that, and at the time we stated had it happened in Clemson that Swinney would've found a microphone and blistered his fans for doing it.
We could see Beamer doing the same thing if such shenanigans unfolded Saturday night.
Four years ago, Muschamp and everyone else on the South Carolina side just stood and watched as students were much more accurate with the bottles than Jake Bentley was with a football. It reinforced the idea that the way a coach carries himself can influence how a fan base carries itself.
A year later in Clemson, South Carolina gave the Tigers real trouble but lost by three touchdowns and in the aftermath Muschamp alleged that a Clemson player injured one of his guys with a cheap shot. It never happened.
Two years ago in Columbia, the Gamecocks were so beaten down coming in that all the students threw was the towel while watching Clemson administer a 38-3 beatdown in front of a bunch of empty seats and orange-clad fans.
Rivalries evolve, and maybe this one will take on some animosity between the coaches at some point. Until then, there will be plenty of seething hatred between the fan bases to fit the traditional definition of this Palmetto State feud.
But if you've been paying attention to how Beamer has carried himself this season on and off the field, it's hard to get away from the belief that the hire was South Carolina using a page from Clemson's book.
The Beamer Way looks a lot like the Dabo Way.
Saturday they'll be trying to cut the heart out of the other.
But they're cut from the same cloth.
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