The year was 1989. It was late in the fourth quarter as coach Shane Beamer gazed upon the field from above, ready to send in the winning play call.
Instead of being inside Lane Stadium in front of 50,000 raucous fans, Frank Beamer’s 12-year-old son could only pretend he was in his father’s shoes. He stood on the wooden deck behind his house, looking down on an empty pasture.
This day, he was lucky enough to have found a friend to send down to the pasture with one walkie-talkie, while he held the other. They used the toys to communicate imaginative strategies, just like Shane saw his father do on Saturdays.
He had already spent the morning in the kitchen reading the game day itinerary aloud to his younger sister, Casey.
He had spent all week in the back of his father’s office, scanning old playbooks for a tip on this week’s game plan.
Twenty years later, Shane Beamer is forging his own path along the sidelines at South Carolina.
The son of the legendary Virginia Tech coach is responsible for the strong safeties, special teams and is the recruiting coordinator for the Gamecocks.
If families are rated on a scale from 1-10 based on frequent stress, those with coaches are an 11.
“When Shane told me he wanted to get into coaching after he was done playing, I said ‘you’ve lived in this house your whole life and you want to do this; are you nuts?’” Frank Beamer said.
Despite all the chaos that came from growing up as the son of a Division I football coach, a young Shane took advantage of his resources.
He began carrying the cord for his father’s headset on the sidelines at age 10. Around that same time, he began reading through stacks of papers tucked away in Frank’s office. Though he was introduced to the deepest secrets of coaching at an early age, he didn’t always appreciate his good fortune.
“If I have any regrets, I wish I had asked more football questions than I did,” Shane said.
As a high school player, Shane was never the best athlete on the field, and had a decision to make as his career drew to an end. He could walk on to his dad’s team, and risk never playing a snap, or play for a small school and continue playing football.
For advice, Shane looked to someone familiar to his situation: Terry Bowden. At the time, Bowden was the head coach at Auburn University, but long before that he had been a walk-on for his father Bobby at West Virginia.
Shane wrote to Terry, asking for consultation on what he should do after high school. Bowden explained to him that if he ever wanted to coach, he should stay with his father where he would learn much more than if he played at a lower level.
It was the first sign of the motivation Shane had to become a figure like his father, yet his parents never knew he had such drive at that time.
“We never knew he sent that letter, until Terry came up to us at a camp and told us,” Shane’s mother Cheryl said.
Shane went on to play for Frank at Tech, where he would become the starting long-snapper for the punt team, or the “Pride” team as it as known in the Hokies’ program. Fittingly, Frank has plenty of pride for what his son had accomplished even before graduating college.
“It was a real treat to get to see him every day for four years,” he said.
After graduating, Shane decided to trade the Blue Ridge Mountains of Blacksburg for the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta, accepting a graduate assistant job at Georgia Tech. In his only year with the Yellow Jackets, he worked on the offensive side of the ball with Ralph Friedgen, now the head coach at Maryland.
After a season where the Jackets finished 9-3, including a seven-game winning streak to finish the regular season, Shane moved to Knoxville to work under Philip Fulmer at Tennessee. It was under Fulmer where Shane learned the defensive side of the football, as well as recruiting in the cutthroat SEC.
“Coach Fulmer was very influential from a recruiting standpoint. He was very intense when it came to recruiting,” Beamer said.
Landing a graduate assistant job at a big-time program is nearly as easy as going twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. Those who don’t know Shane might assume he let his surname carry him to such great schools, while in reality he worked tirelessly to give himself those opportunities.
“Having connections helped, but it was writing a lot of letters to coaches and doing everything I could myself that got me the jobs,” he said.
Shane’s first full-time coaching job came in 2004 at Mississippi State under Sylvester Croom, the first African-American coach in the Southeastern Conference. Shane coached the defensive backs. Croom’s ruthless work ethic and strong disciplinary background helped Shane learn the work it took to build a successful team from the ground up.
In 2007, Steve Spurrier, the former national championship coach at Florida who had returned to the college ranks at South Carolina, hired Shane to coach the outside linebackers.
Until then, Shane had only ever worked for coaches with philosophies marked by great defense and power running games, let alone growing up as the son of one.
Spurrier was a horse of a different color, though. In the 1990’s he made Florida great by instituting his “Fun N’ Gun” offense, which emphasized passing more times per game than Elvis had number one hits.
The change in styles was an adjustment for Shane, but his new boss and father had many more similarities than differences.
“They are both great competitors, whether its football or golf, they both hate to lose. Their strategies might be different, but they are both intense and want to win in everything they do,” he said.
After the 2008 season, Spurrier named Shane was named his recruiting coordinator; perhaps the toughest job at any SEC school. Nevertheless, he was well fit for the job.
“He is so good about writing handwritten notes to recruits. When he calls them he knows their whole life history it seems. His attention to detail is great, just like his daddy’s,” Cheryl said.
Obviously, signing high school kids to play for South Carolina takes more than a simple note, and Shane goes to great lengths to secure the best prospects he can.
“Recruiting in the SEC is cutthroat, lasting 365 days a year. You have to be up to it every day,” Shane said.
In the first recruiting class since taking the coordinating job, South Carolina’s commitments were ranked 12th in the country, according to rivals.com.
Even with their busy schedules, Shane and Frank manage to have great communication during the season.
The two speak on the phone at least once a week, usually on Thursday nights, and the subject rarely deviates from football.
“We’ll talk a lot about X’s and O’s, the previous game and the upcoming one. When we do talk, it’s usually about football,” Shane said.
Through hard work, persistence, and some ultra-strong bloodlines, Shane, 32, has developed into one of the strongest up-and-coming assistant coaches in the country, which begs one obvious question: when will father bring son back to Blacksburg?
“I think they would love (to coach together),” Cheryl said.
Several obstacles stand in the way of Shane’s possible return to Blacksburg. One is the continuity of the staff at Tech. There have only been four coaches leave the Frank’s staff since 2000. The loyalty of the assistants to the Tech program is unparalleled, and the head coach is hardly one to break that up simply to hire his son.
“It has to be the right situation, but I do think he is a great coach,” Frank said.
The second roadblock in Shane’s path home is the scrutiny he would face as a part of his father’s staff. Just 120 miles away, Virginia coach Al Groh had to fire his son and offensive coordinator Mike under tremendous pressure from the fan base to make the change.
Several other sons of great coaches have always been under a close watch. Terry and Tommy Bowden were both head coaches at Auburn and Clemson, respectively, and had to constantly deal with the pressure of being Bobby’s son.
Jay Paterno has caught great criticism at times over the years for the lack of production from the quarterback position at Penn State.
Obviously, any coach whose players aren’t performing at a high level will hear the jeers of the fans. Being the son of a coach is even worse, though, as you can be accused of only keeping your job because of your dad.
If that “right situation” ever does occur, you can bet Shane will be on the Lane Stadium sidelines once again; this time with a big-boy walkie-talkie, and real players instead of his sister.
Shane’s eventual return would only make sense for the Beamer family, whose impact on the university and community is indescribable.
Should he ever return, very little would change around the Tech program. When asked to name a difference between her husband and son, Cheryl Beamer was at a loss for words.
“Let’s just say this: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”