Jamey Chadwell owned the conversation on Saturday night, as his Coastal Carolina Chanticleers holding on to beat BYU 22-17 in a thrilling last-second victory to cap an amazing week of only-in-2020 circumstances. CCU, 10-0 for the first time in school and Sun Belt Conference history, whipped up an ad-hoc statement that stole college football’s attention on an otherwise forgettable weekend. And then South Carolina hired Shane Beamer as their next head coach.
Is Beamer – a career assistant late of Oklahoma and formerly of the Gamecocks, Georgia and Mississippi State, as well as son of Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer – a worthwhile response to Carolina eating Will Muschamp’s $13 million buyout amidst a recession? Would Chadwell, a sitting head coach who turned an FBS version of an expansion franchise (founded in 2003, FBS in 2017) into a fresh new Group of Five monster, be a better or more deserving pick?
The former is impossible to gauge, the latter is a road paved with dangerous logic. This industry is not, nor has it ever been, a meritocracy.
In the Nick Saban era of the Southeastern Conference, you can drop almost every head coaching hire into one of two buckets: a Chadwell or a Beamer. A Chadwell is an outsider, with schematic or cultural bonafides that an athletic director and/or booster corps believes will translate successfully to the SEC. A Beamer lacks the head coaching experience and can’t boast a proven working system, but has knocked around the league long enough to know its hidden politics and what it takes to make the SEC’s signature blood sausage, i.e. recruiting.
Sam Pittman is a Beamer. Eli Drinkwitz is a Chadwell. Jeremy Pruitt and Kirby Smart and Matt Luke are Beamers, Joe Moorhead and Butch Jones and Kevin Sumlin are Chadwells. Sometimes you can be both (Jimbo Fisher had league “experience” and a complete head coaching brand by the time he got to College Station, and in a scratch-and-dent sort of trajectory; so did Lane Kiffin when he got to Ole Miss), or become both (Dan Mullen was a Beamer when he got to Mississippi State and a Chadwell by the time Florida hired him).
It’s not important to figure out which is better. I’m not even sure that’s possible. The point of the exercise is that these two ideas of a man — a promising young head coach with a new idea, or an already accomplished doer of dirt in the SEC — are often mutually exclusive, and often the decision makers at schools like South Carolina choose to hire one and hope the new coach fills out his staff with the other kind.
Then there’s Billy Napier: He runs his own successful program at Louisiana, a G5 spot comfortable enough at least for the moment for him to be a little choosy about his next gig (I stress “the moment,” lest no one notice the Mark Hudspeth-shaped scarecrow tottering in the Carcosa winds). Napier is effectively both a Chadwell and a Beamer. He’s from the SEC footprint (Tennessee); he’s recruited for Saban; he’s called plays in the Power 5; he’s overseen recruiting and development in one of the most talent-rich states in the country, and he made a big damn deal about NOT taking the South Carolina job on Saturday night.
This is now twice in two cycles Napier’s name has been heavily floated/connected/associated/obscure-verb’d with an SEC job only for Napier and his lot to position the coach as DEDICATED TO BUILDING THE FUTURE at Louisiana-Lafayette. Last year Napier did a dance with Mississippi State that ended with a public recommitment to the Cajuns and industry gossip that he was holding out for a job like... South Carolina.
Some of the following things are likely true, if not all of them:
- Napier likely knew he wasn’t the frontrunner because of Beamer’s prior connections to the school.
- Napier and his reps evaluated South Carolina and didn’t like what they saw.
- Napier is interested in another SEC job, which is Tennessee. (So maybe next year he’ll turn down the Vols to chase Auburn, I guess)
Look: I love the G5 with a stupid, irrational passion instilled from birth, but no head coach in America is spurning multiple SEC schools in successive years to stay at Louisiana. That Napier is a bird on a wire is not shocking; that he’s still in that position is fascinating to me.
Maybe Beamer really is that well-liked by South Carolina, but I’m not sure. The Gamecocks’ search was clunky — at one point a faction of the Board of Regents was touting Hugh Freeze just as the school president, Robert Caslen, was aggressively pushing Army’s Jeff Monken. And it was destined to look stupid because of the terms set by firing Muschamp so expensively, and with assumed lame duck athletic director Ray Tanner, a Muschamp loyalist, flapping in the wind.
Chadwell has done wonders at Coastal and helped all of us, at least for one Saturday night, ignore the widening maw of depression this farcical pandemic season represents. Beamer, irrespective of his famous last name, has to date made his career as a Goodfella in the SEC. Both would be logical hires, both could eat the curb. South Carolina’s a damn hard job. So is Mississippi State. So, too, is Tennessee. Eventually Billy Napier is going to leave Lafayette for a SEC job, and whichever team hires him will be instantly granted with both a laurel of elite status they already own and a target on their back from those he’s spurned. This is how we make silly fables of men in this sport.
Vanderbilt — In addition to previously attached local names like Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea (a former Commodores player and Nashville native), Alabama running backs coach Charles Huff (former Vanderbilt quality control assistant and Tennessee State assistant), and Charlotte head coach Will Healy (former Austin Peay head coach and Chattanooga native), you can add Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz.
Holtz doesn’t have an outright connection to the state of Tennessee, but he worked for Vandy’s new deputy athletic director, Tommy McClelland, at La Tech. Vanderbilt has raised eyebrows among some agents with their professed expectations for suggested candidates. There hasn’t been a title mandate (head coaching experience, offensive background, etc.), but Vanderbilt has, at least early on in this process, communicated that they’re only entertaining “big names,” as one agent described.
Will that mandate hold? I doubt it. How do we add context to an opaque demand like “only big names?” I honestly don’t know. Is that anecdote circling around on purpose to make Vanderbilt look like less of a paper tiger, and I shouldn’t have written this? It’s entirely possible. Will Vanderbilt claim whoever their next hire is, in fact, a “big” one? Of course. Did one of my colleagues just report that a career strength and conditioning coach has been in contact with VU? You bet! Welcome to coaching season!
Utah State — Graham Harrell will not be the next head coach of the Aggies, despite social media chatter to the contrary over the weekend. The USC offensive coordinator and Utah State aren’t actively pursuing each other, and the Aggies are still interviewing candidates.
Much like Southern Miss, USU has benefitted from the luxury of a long opening (Gary Andersen was fired Nov. 7), and has met with and interviewed a variety of candidates. There’s still an aggressive push around the program for a local candidate like Weber State’s Jay Hill, but that seems highly unlikely. Utah State has not communicated to agents and coaches that previous coaching experience in the West is a requirement.
Louisiana-Monroe — Full disclosure: I have a soft spot in my heart for this, the poorest FBS program in the poorest FBS conference. I married into a Monroe family and I think I’m now somehow related (by multiple marriages) to former Warhawks and San Diego Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries. I’m not sure. Go ‘Hawks. Eat at Cormier’s.
This job is hard. This job is an afterthought in a region of Louisiana that has more in common culturally and economically with the Mississippi Delta than New Orleans. Any excitement any previous coach has been able to muster dies as soon as soon as duck season starts.
A working list for this job has not yet been established, but I can tell you that coaches across the nation are very wary of a school with such few resources and a nearly invisible brand in recruiting. One name that’s not available is Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, a former Warhawk quarterback. Pederson will be contacted for his assistance and advice, and he should be. He cares deeply about the program, and his son Josh is a tight end on the current roster. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if a coach with a clear Pederson tie ends up in Funroe. Start with Hawaii offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach G.J. Kinne, who came to the Warriors from the Eagles.
Flat out, without sugar coating it: ULM has to make this next hire work or they might as well plan on an Idaho-like transition back to the FCS. There is enough available talent in this specific region of the country (ask Saban, who has feasted in the 318 area code) to support ULM and neighboring not-a-rival-but-yes-actually-a-rival Louisiana Tech.
Tl;dr: Just run the triple, Funroe.
South Alabama — It’s really, really early, but Sunday’s firing of Steve Campbell (9-26 overall) was not a shock. There’s no real list yet, not that you won’t see a string of names associated with a school that started football in 2009. Expect an even mix of good-but-fired P5 head coaches looking for a second act and SEC assistants. If you’re curious why: 100 of 116 players on USA’s roster are from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia. USA sits in lovely Mobile, Ala., in a brand-new stadium, smack dab in the talent-rich Interstate 10 corridor. And what have I been telling y’all about geography?