“I’d known him for a long time,” said Smart, who owns a house on Lake Oconee near the Beamers and had played golf with them there. “He was interested in coming, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to jump into (the) SEC and be part of our program, and he did.”
Beamer coached tight ends and special teams for the Bulldogs during Smart’s first two seasons in Athens. But after Georgia’s College Football Playoff run in the 2017 season, Beamer left to join Lincoln Riley’s staff at Oklahoma just a couple of weeks after the Bulldogs beat the Sooners in their Rose Bowl CFP semifinal.
That’s kind of been Beamer’s style in college football. Growing up the son of a head coach, it always has been Beamer’s ambition to do the same. The move to Oklahoma represented Beamer’s seventh stop in 17 years of coaching, but the title of assistant head coach that the Sooners promised him got him a step closer to that goal.
Sure enough, three years later, South Carolina came calling. Beamer, at 45 just a year younger than Smart, is now in his second season with the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC). They will play host to No. 1-ranked Georgia (2-0) on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium (noon, SEC Network).
Considering his background – starting with his dad – it would be hard to call Beamer a part of Smart’s coaching tree. But he credits the Georgia coach and his time in Athens for a lot of what he’s trying to implement at South Carolina.
“Kirby Smart made me a better football coach,” Beamer said during his weekly news conference in Columbia on Tuesday afternoon. “That was a really beneficial two years for me to be with him. … I was able to come in and see the whole Nick Saban/Alabama ‘process’ and all that and see it implemented from Day 1. I came in there at the end of December, right after he had gotten hired, and was able to see everything implemented in Year 1. And that first year was not easy.”
It certainly was not. Beamer was on the Georgia sideline as the Bulldogs struggled against Nicholls State and lost games they should have won against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
But Beamer also was on hand as the Bulldogs scraped together the nation’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class in 2016 and then the No. 3-ranked group in 2017. He saw it all come to fruition with a trip to the national championship game.
“Seeing how he handled coaches, seeing how he handled the day-to-day stuff, the recruiting part of it, practice, there’s a lot of things that we do here that are directly from things that I took from my time at Georgia,” Beamer said. “There’s things we don’t do, too. We do some things differently as well. But when you talk about all the places I’ve been and coaches I’ve taken things from as far as how we structure stuff, a lot of it came from my time with Kirby.”
It has gotten off to a great start for Beamer at South Carolina. He took over the Gamecocks after a 2-8 final season under Will Muschamp to a 7-6 record and a win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl last year in Charlotte.
South Carolina capitalized on the positivity with a No. 24-ranked recruiting class a year after coming in 79th. Meanwhile, Beamer has tried to introduce a fun vibe to his program. He has become as well known for the video memes the Gamecocks post on social media, such as this summer’s Soulja Boy impression, as for bringing in high-profile transfers, such as former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have chosen this as their biggest recruiting weekend of the year. They are bringing in top-notch talent from the state and all over the South to Columbia for Saturday’s game.
“He’s created a lot of energy for his program through enthusiasm,” Smart said Monday. “They have an excellent staff at South Carolina, and they’re creating an environment for their program to compete at a high level. South Carolina’s always historically played Georgia, you know, really hard. It’s usually the first SEC game most years. They recruit our state hard; we recruit their state hard. So, there’s a lot of things to that.”
But there remains much hard work to be done in Columbia. The Gamecocks were manhandled in a 44-30 loss at Arkansas on Saturday. Turnovers and the inability to run the football or stop the run proved to be South Carolina’s undoing against another former Smart assistant, Sam Pittman.
South Carolina will face a similar challenge when Smart’s No. 1-ranked team enters Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday as a 24 ½-point favorite. But while Beamer remains extremely complimentary of Smart and the Bulldogs, he insists the Gamecocks will not be intimidated by them.
“There’s great belief within our program,” Beamer said. “I don’t have to rally our players to make them believe. They believe and have confidence. They should; we’re a really good SEC football team, and we’ve got really good SEC players. A lot of these players Georgia wanted on their team. … So, we have belief every single week. I don’t have to convince these guys we can win the football game.”
Beamer has seen it done before. He was on the Gamecocks’ sideline as Steve Spurrier’s recruiting and special teams coordinator in 2010 when South Carolina knocked off No. 1-ranked Alabama 35-21 in Columbia.
They’ll have to play a lot better Saturday than they have recently. Thanks in part to the addition of nine transfers, South Carolina is averaging more points and passing yards in the early going. But they’re still struggling to stand up to the SEC’s top teams on the lines of scrimmage. That wasn’t made easier with the loss of two defensive starters to knee injuries in the loss to Arkansas: linebacker Mo Kaba and defensive end Jordan Strachan.
But they’re going to get there, Beamer insists; if not now, eventually. Smart, he said, has helped show him the way.