When both USC and Clemson were pursuing Frank Beamer
For two weeks in November and December of 1998, both of South Carolina's major football program were trying, with varying degrees of intensity, to hire Shane Beamer's dad.
Both South Carolina and Clemson fired their head coaches in November 1998, and each school entered the hiring market with a sense of urgency. USC had just finished the worst season in the 102-year history of its program. And the ‘98 Clemson team only just avoided the same dismal fate by getting to three wins against the Gamecocks. Within two weeks of season’s end, the Gamecocks and Tigers had each made bold moves to salvage their foundering football programs, securing their top-choice candidates with little in the way of public-facing drama.
The swift and decisive action was made all the more impressive by the fact that USC and Clemson were also competing against vacancies at Oklahoma, Iowa, Ole Miss, and Auburn — any of which might have been considered less risky destinations for a legend like Lou Holtz or a rising star with a national-championship bloodline, like Tommy Bowden.
But if Holtz had decided to stay in the CBS studio and Bowden had opted for, say, the newly vacant Ole Miss job, things would have gotten interesting. Considering that many of the same coaches populated USC and Clemson’s shortlists, we could have easily had a situation where the Gamecocks and Tigers were both bidding against each other for the same one or two coaches. And if it had come to that, the No. 2 candidate on each team’s short list was Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer.
Was Beamer was genuinely looking to get out of Blacksburg in 1998 or just increasing his leverage for contract extension? It’s not entirely clear. The trouble with coaching searches is that both athletics departments and coaches are highly incentivized to lie to the media. What we do know is that both USC and Clemson requested and received permission to talk to Beamer and that Beamer eventually withdrew his candidacy — but only after it was clear that Clemson was getting Bowden and Carolina was getting Holtz.
The strongest evidence that Beamer just wanted an extension is that he did indeed get an extension, as he had done in many offseasons prior.
Behold this 1998 column from The Roanoke Times1, laced with more strained 1990s pop culture references than a Jay Leno monologue:
It seems like every year, about this time, this game gets played.
Not the annual Virginia-Virginia Tech football date; the Frank Beamer coaching lottery.
If it's November, it must be Alabama, or Georgia, or, this time, Clemson and South Carolina. The Gamecocks asked permission to talk to Beamer on Monday, as Clemson did last week.
Will it be Oklahoma wanting to talk turkey by Thanksgiving? It seems Beamer has been a candidate in more Novembers than Harold Stassen.
Beamer's contract as the Hokies' football boss has been renegotiated more times than a Middle East peace treaty. He got a new deal after the 1994 season, and again a year later.
Since then, he's coaxed five-year rollovers for coordinators Bud Foster and Rickey Bustle and assistant head coach Billy Hite. He wanted enhanced facilities, and Tech built the grand Merryman Center.
You want windows? Check out Beamer's classy new office, not Microsoft. Beamer has asked Tech to show him the money so often, he will have to be played on film by Cuba Gooding Jr.
After the 1995 season, Beamer was labeled a candidate at Georgia. That report may have started in the Tech football office. Beamer got no interview - but he got a new deal.
So, to try to thwart such situations with the alumnus-coach, then-Tech athletic director Dave Braine signed Beamer to a contract that was a two-way street. Beamer's deal, finishing its third season, rolls over annually, but it also has a coach's buyout clause through the first five years. If he leaves, he forfeits the accruals and contributions to a $1 million annuity he can collect in 2005.
The strongest evidence that Beamer was genuinely interested in the USC job is that half of his Virginia Tech players thought he was as good as gone, according to the Hokies’ second-leading rusher in the 1998 season.
“Most of the team wants him to stay,” he said.2 “Half the team thinks he’s going to leave … I don't really like the fact that he might be leaving, but it's not me. It's his life. He hasn't told us he's leaving and he didn't tell us he's staying.”
To that player’s credit, they’d already been playing for a whole month under a cloud of rumors about their head coach. Beamer was first connected to another job when Terry Bowden abruptly resigned his post at Auburn in mid-October.
“I don't think you ever say never in this business,” Beamer said when asked about the Auburn job. “Things just happen so quickly.”
The Hokies’ athletics director was doing his best to put a positive spin on all the rumors connecting his head coach with out-of-town gigs.
“Quite frankly, I'm flattered that people think so highly of Frank and our staff,” he said. “Certainly we think that highly of them here and we don't want them to go anywhere.
“But this isn't rocket science. When Clemson and South Carolina are within four to five hours of our institution and you have a coach the quality of Frank Beamer ... certainly you have your head in the sand if you don't think somebody might have some interest in him.”
As the longsnapper on the Hokies’ 1998 team put it, “He's got a good job here, and I know that he's happy and wants to stay. But I also think he'd be crazy not to listen to what those schools had to say and what they brought to the table.”
“I think he owes it to himself and to the family to listen to what they have to offer.”
It probably bears mentioning that the longsnapper’s name was Shane Beamer.
Working against Beamer from the start was the fact that Virginia Tech gave him clearance to talk with South Carolina and Clemson only after the Hokies’ regular season ended, and the Hokies’ season didn’t end until a week after South Carolina and Clemson’s did. Clemson had already announced the week before the Carolina game that Tommy West would not return, and Mike McGee’s announcement on Brad Scott came two days after the Gamecocks’ 10th consecutive loss — though some say McGee made that decision as early as the Oct. 24 loss to Vanderbilt.
So by the time the clock was at triple zeros in VT’s finale against Virginia, McGee had already been working his long-time friend, Holtz, for more than a month — and was kicking the tires on Tommy Bowden and Butch Davis in case things fell through. Clemson started talking with Bowden after Tulane’s Thursday night finale — two days before the Tech-Virginia game — and the deal was done early the following week.
But Beamer is probably just fine with how things turned out. A year later, Michael Vick took over as VT’s starting quarterback, and the Hokies made it all the way to the national title game. He oversaw the Hokies’ transition to the ACC and won their new conference four times. The notion that he’d ever had a wandering eye faded from memory.
Jack Bogaczyk, “Speculation a tradition at Virginia Tech,” Roanoke Times, The (VA), November 24, 1998
Steve Carlson, “S. Carolina is 2nd school that will talk to Beamer,” Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA), November 25, 1998