——Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on South Carolina’s football coaching transition. Part 1 looked at how Ray Tanner email records revealed a glimpse into Muschamp’s final days as Gamecocks head coach——
On Thanksgiving night 2020, an email landed in the inbox of South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner.
“You need to go get him and not screw around,” it read. “Nothing good happens when you wait or hesitate.”
“Him” referred to then-Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer. The email’s sender was Mack Whittle, a 30-year member of USC’s board of trustees.
Almost 30 minutes after urging Tanner not to “screw around,” Whittle was even more direct in a second email.
“Do not screw it up,” he wrote.
Whittle was hardly the only person with strong opinions regarding South Carolina’s search to fill its football head coaching vacancy.
From the firing of former coach Will Muschamp on Nov. 15 to the eventual hiring of Beamer on Dec. 6, Tanner received hundreds of emails with input on Carolina’s coaching search. Some were from passionate fans expressing their preferences, others were from donors. Former players reached out, and USC higher-ups like Whittle also made their voices heard.
Whittle’s email was just one of hundreds obtained by The State through an open records request for the time period the Gamecocks were working through their change in football leadership. The State initially requested these records Dec. 14, asking for emails, text messages and phone records for Tanner from Nov. 7 to Dec. 6. The request was not fulfilled until May 14, or five months later.
Nearly all the work in a coaching search is handled through private conversations, of course, but the emails and other public records provide a glimpse into the timeline, thinking and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that occurred. The correspondence that flooded Tanner’s inbox after Muschamp’s dismissal offers a glimpse into who folks thought should and shouldn’t be the next Gamecocks coach, reveal a level of involvement from former USC President Bob Caslen and introduce some interesting people whose names were offered up as candidates.
Hopefuls reach out to the Gamecocks
Any time an SEC football coach is fired, the speculation and frenzy are immediate. Search firms emailed Tanner offering their services, records show. Staff members sent him links to media coverage of the search. Potential candidates also reached out, either directly or through intermediaries.
Josh Conklin, head coach at FCS Wofford and a former defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, emailed both Tanner and Caslen directly — and sent Caslen a direct message on Twitter, one record showed — pitching himself as a young, scrappy underdog coach eager to prove himself and install a “Spread Gun Option” offense.
Maurice Drayton, an assistant special teams coach with the Green Bay Packers and graduate of The Citadel, had his agent send his resume and references.
Dan Quinn, previously the head coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons for five seasons before being fired roughly a month before Muschamp, was eager to “express his keen interest” in the job, a Falcons scout wrote to Caslen and Tanner.
Steve Wilks, who spent a season as head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, “expressed particularly strong interest in the job,” his agent wrote to Tanner.
USC great Robert Brooks advocated for NFL assistant coach Rich Bisaccia.
None of those men were publicly reported as candidates for the job, and Tanner responded to their overtures either not at all or with a polite, generic promise that he’d add them to the list.
There were no email records provided that showed correspondence to or from top South Carolina targets such as Shane Beamer (Oklahoma), Billy Napier (Louisiana), Jamey Chadwell (Coastal Carolina) or Scott Satterfield (Louisville).
Say no to Monken
One person rumored to be in contention — and whose candidacy generated quite the stir within the USC fan base — was Army coach Jeff Monken. Having taken over the Black Knights when Caslen was the superintendent at West Point and built them into a successful program, Monken had a natural connection to be considered in Columbia.
His triple option offense — a style of offense that virtually every Power 5 program is loathe to run — lacks the glitz and glam of the pass-heavy schemes seen around modern college football.
Reports that Monken was even being considered led to a mini-backlash among Gamecock fans. In the emails reviewed by The State, Tanner received more than a dozen messages from fans all advocating against Monken’s hiring.
One donor wrote: “If you need my financial support with hiring a new football head coach, let me know. I am willing to go as high as 5 figures in support for the right candidate. Under no circumstances will I financially support a decision to hire Monken.”
Monken himself only appears once in the emails. On Nov. 23, he emailed Caslen a link to a promotional documentary touting the success of Army football. Caslen forwarded the link to Tanner, writing simply “Ray, FYI.”
One emailer who appeared to just be a fan offered himself as the next Gamecocks coach, writing: “I think I would be a great candidate to put into the mix. No I do not have any experience coaching in the NCAA or anywhere but I think we would take the NCAA, SEC, and world by storm (Sandstorm) if you decided to hire the youngest coach in college football history. … I promise you it wouldn’t be a decision you regret. Give me a call at when you’re ready to make history. I’m a huge fan of this team and what everyone is doing at the University of South Carolina, so why not make history and see what I can do with this great team?”
Beamer, as noted, didn’t send anything directly to Tanner via the emails released to The State. Instead, supporters reached out on his behalf.
Brent Skinner — a USC graduate and the founder and owner of BP Skinner Clothiers, a business that has worked with Gamecock athletics — sent Tanner a 700-word letter advocating for Beamer on Nov. 22.
Several days later, on Thanksgiving, a man emailed Tanner saying his wife was the principal of the school where Beamer sent his children in Oklahoma. He praised Beamer and his wife, Emily, and added “I cannot think of a better person and family to lead a college football program.”
Former USC players make voices heard
Beyond boosters and board members, former players chimed in on South Carolina’s opening. It’s well-documented droves of ex-Gamecocks lined up to support Beamer, who served as an assistant under Steve Spurrier from 2007 to 2010, and Tanner’s emails back that up.
“Shane has garnered tremendous support from former players. I did two zoom calls with them and many more calls individually,” Tanner wrote in response to Mack Whittle on Thanksgiving. “I will be meeting with numerous candidates this week.”
Former Gamecock wide receiver Moe Brown, who ran for Congress in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in 2020, was one of the more influential program alums to reach out. On Nov. 22, he spoke with Caslen and pushed for former players to have a voice in the hiring process.
Two days later, Brown emailed Caslen and Tanner again, this time with a memo that “contains the collective thoughts of former players across six decades of Gamecock Football.”
“Our goal is to help build and reinforce an inclusive, disciplined winning culture at the University of South Carolina. We strongly believe this memo, the framework, and the individuals listed herein will deliver that culture,” Brown wrote in an email co-signed by two other former players — Anton Gunn, a former state representative and adviser to President Barack Obama, and Courtney Leavitt.
The text of that memo was redacted, but Caslen did note in another email to Tanner that Brown had been “strongly advocating” for Chris Rumph, who at the time was coaching outside linebackers for the NFL’s Houston Texans. A former Gamecock himself, Rumph worked at Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Clemson and Memphis before landing in the pro ranks.
Rumph was also mentioned by another high-profile former Gamecock, Tori Gurley, who reached out to Caslen and advocated for the veteran coach, as well as former Gamecocks and coaches Duce Staley and Rod Wilson.
Rumph, Staley and Wilson are all Black, and South Carolina has never had a Black head football coach. Shortly after Muschamp was fired, Tanner had pledged to interview a diverse field of candidates, and Caslen forwarded Gurley’s email to him, writing “Ray, A couple more AA candidates for consideration.”
Caslen, in the documents provided to The State by USC, forwarded numerous emails to Tanner related to the coaching search. At one point Caslen remarked about media coverage.
“Ray, Who in the world is leaking all this?” Caslen wrote Tanner in response to a report by SportsTalkSC’s Phil Kornblut that Rumph and Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson were among those who interviewed for the USC job.
Tanner replied: “I have no idea — unless it is their agents.”
Brown, speaking with The State on Tuesday, said Tanner held a meeting with more than 80 former Gamecock football players during the process to discuss the transition of power within the program and the vision for its future. The town hall meeting of sorts allowed players to express their thoughts and gain an audience with decision makers at USC amid the search that eventually landed Beamer in Columbia.
“It was free flowing and we told them how we felt,” Brown said of the meeting between Tanner and football alumni. “But that went even further for us to be able to organize and put on paper what we thought was needed in a coach and the culture that needed to be established.”
Brown also noted a smaller contingent of alumni that spanned six decades of USC football spoke with Tanner regularly throughout the process as a sounding board, but did not partake in any official ongoings or interviews.
“It all just went together to start off on the right foot — no matter who the next head coach was — that the alumni were going to be a crucial part of that moving forward,” Brown said. “That set the table for that and you’re seeing the fruits of that labor now in how coach Beamer is progressing the program forward.”
Breaking news: Shane Beamer is USC’s new football coach
At 11:18 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5 — seven minutes after the Gamecocks’ 41-18 season-ending loss to Kentucky — national college football writer Bruce Feldman broke the news via Twitter that Shane Beamer “is expected to become the next head coach at South Carolina.”
On Sunday, Dec. 6, folks involved with USC athletics’ communications and media relations teams spent several hours sharing notes about how Beamer’s introductory press release should be worded.
At 8:31 a.m. Dec. 6, an email titled “Draft Information on New Coach” was sent by executive associate athletic director Charles Bloom to Tanner, senior deputy athletic director Chance Miller, chief marketing officer Eric Nichols and director of athletics media relation Steve Fink — along with “a draft press release and notes on Shane Beamer.”
New and creative media director Justin King was copied on follow-up emails discussing those drafts of the Beamer announcement.
“Looks like the team meeting will be around 3 p.m.,” Bloom wrote at 1:05 p.m. “Possibility of sending this out to media at 3:30 and to the Board of Trustees at 3 p.m. Thoughts?
Just before 2:30 p.m., Tanner and Beamer arrived at South Carolina’s Long Family Football Operations Center.
At 3:36 p.m., Bloom sent along the impending press statement to high-ranking USC leaders via email: “Senior Staff — FYI … This will be sent out to the media at 4 p.m. today.”
At 4:06 p.m. Dec. 6, the official press release was sent and announcement made to the media and the world: “Beamer Named the 36th Head Football Coach at the University of South Carolina.”
Next in this series: Ray Tanner’s phone records paint a timeline of which coaching candidates were contacted and when, who received in-person interviews and how things developed throughout the day Dec. 5 as the coaching search came to a close and led the Gamecocks to Shane Beamer.
— The State’s Ben Portnoy contributed to this story.