Always good to see two teams from the Palmetto State on ESPN’s Way Too Early Top 25 list for an upcoming college football season.
That South Carolina isn’t one of those isn’t surprising. If it’s way too early to tell if Clemson winds up No. 1 or Coastal Carolina No. 23 in 2021, it’s way, way too early to tell if the Gamecocks will be competitive within the SEC East in 2023.
That’s because South Carolina Football Management, Inc., is engaged in a nearly unprecedented experiment deep inside a massive laboratory near campus.
Garnet and black hypothesis: It’s possible to hire a head football coach without head coach or coordinator experience, have him hire a pair of coordinators without Power 5 conference coordinator experience and win enough games to satisfy an attention-starved SEC fan base.
The start of South Carolina’s Shane Beamer Era is fascinating stuff.
It’s so unprecedented that, if it works, it will change the way coaches are hired and staffs are put together throughout major college football.
Arkansas a year ago hired a head coach (former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman) without head coach or coordinator experience. But he quickly brought in defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who had that gig at Missouri before becoming head coach, and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who ran the offense for one year at Florida State.
All other current SEC head coaches — and most of the rest in SEC history — had previous head coach experience.
Some wishful people point to two-time national championship winner Dabo Swinney and his early days at Clemson as a comparison. But strictly speaking, when Swinney was hired as full-time head coach for the 2009 season, he’d had a seven-game 2008 trial as interim head coach. True, 30-year-old Billy Napier was the offensive coordinator in 2009. But defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had the same job in 2007 under Nick Saban at Alabama.
Bumpy ride ahead
Beamer, 43, oozes enthusiasm.
Defensive coordinator Clayton White, 43, and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield, 44, also have that “hungry” and “chip on the shoulder” attitude Beamer wants representing the program (and Satterfield seems like a better fit for Beamer than Mike Bobo, who bolted last week for Auburn).
A lot of South Carolina fans feel the same way as they deal with annoying supporters of Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU …
Still, for Gamecock Nation, this projects as a ride bumpier than a Miami to Bermuda flight in bad weather. While Beamer, White and Satterfield each are impressive on paper and upon introduction, it’s a callow trio by any big-time measure.
Good news for Gamecock fans: South Carolina’s 2021 foes will have to scramble for Western Kentucky and Temple tape to get a read on White and Satterfield, respectively.
Bad news: See the good news.
The staff on defense is so young that Beamer this week said no team in the country has a group of assistant coaches more capable “if we even need some bodies on the field.”
This is like a college football version of “Moneyball.”
Ray Tanner and Brad Pitt
It wasn’t exactly drawn up that way when Will Muschamp was fired in November.
It isn’t the same kind of advanced analytics determining roster moves as in Michael Lewis’ best-seller about the Oakland A’s turned into a film starring Brad Pitt as general manager and former Charleston resident Billy Beane.
But athletic director Ray Tanner is a baseball guy.
Tanner as South Carolina’s two-time national championship winning head coach made his College World Series debut in 2002, the same season Lewis studied the A’s.
Ultimately, “Moneyball” isn’t about trying to save money or draw more walks or do less bunting. It’s about taking advantage of market inefficiencies.
South Carolina is trying to win while saving money on one of the most inexpensive coaching staffs relative to market prices in SEC history. And doing so as other schools spend like sailors who spend like drunken college trustees.
First, though, comes 2021.
Spring practice prep work includes working the transfer portal for at least another quarterback, a few more receivers and some able tacklers.
The pitch: Hey, young man, want to play SEC football and play a lot?
Same thing with recruiting, which took a hit this week when Class of 2022 prize quarterback Gunner Stockton decommitted into a pool of suitors including Bobo at Auburn, SEC East rival Georgia and almost every other school on future schedules.
But someone will write a best-seller if this Gamecock “Moneyball” experiment works.
Brad Pitt as Ray Tanner in the film? Not so sure.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff