Tennessee's Josh Heupel, South Carolina's Shane Beamer honored with Spurrier award in Gainesville

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

A pair of head football coaches in the Southeastern Conference descended upon Gainesville on Monday night, though it wasn’t for recruitment or competitive reasons. 

At a reception held at Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille in Celebration Pointe, South Carolina’s Shane Beamer and Tennessee’s Josh Heupel were in attendance to receive the Football Writers Association of America’s Steve Spurrier First-Year Head Coach Award, which was sponsored by Chris Doering Mortgage and is in the inaugural year of being named in Spurrier’s honor. 

With Spurrier serving as host and pontificating behind the microphone, Beamer and Heupel socialized and conversed with a multitude of notable guests, including Florida Gators legends Kevin Carter, Judd Davis, Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. 

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Kevin Carter, Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel in attendance

From quipping about Doering almost ending up at Florida State to sharing stories of his time at Duke University, Spurrier, with his wife, Jerri, by his side, was in fine form. 

“Back in 1991, Chris wanted to come walk on,” Spurrier recalled of Doering’s recruitment, “but we had a grad assistant who said, ‘Coach, this kid is not good enough to even walk on at Florida, he needs to go somewhere else, some lower school.’ Chris actually visited FSU the next weekend or so, and almost went to FSU, but I found out about it and called him up and said, ‘Of course you can walk on here, come on.’ And so all Chris did, he walked on and played on the scout team first year, redshirted, and all he did was catch more touchdown passes than any player in the history of the SEC for 25 years until DeVonta Smith at Alabama.”

But Spurrier mostly discussed the difficulty of what Beamer and Heupel had accomplished in their first seasons in the SEC.

“I like the coaches that don’t come in with a bunch of excuses, and these two guys didn’t come in saying, ‘Wait until we recruit my ball players, wait until we turn this culture around.’ I’ve heard all these excuses, and these guys didn’t have any excuses,” Spurrier said. “They basically said, ‘We get 11, the other team gets 11, let’s go play and see what happens.’ They both had wonderful seasons, but I know they’re not content with 7-6, and better things are ahead for both of these coaches and both of these teams.”

Heupel, who arrived in Knoxville in January 2021 by way of UCF, certainly seems to think so. 

The 43-year-old Volunteers head coach, who helped lead Oklahoma to the 2000 BCS National Championship, delved into a variety of topics following the reception, from the heightened expectations heading into his second season with the program to his thoughts on the NCAA’s transfer portal.

“There’s good and bad with everything in college football,” Heupel said of the latter. “For everyone in college football, from the athletic department to coaches, we just have to find the right tipping point and make sure that we’re balancing all of these things.”

Heupel indirectly referenced the culture in which Spurrier alluded, saying it will be an area of greater emphasis when the Volunteers open spring practice on March 21. 

“Year two, it’s continued growth and understanding of who and what we’re going to be, how we’re going to compete,” Heupel said. “On the football side of it, there’s so many ways that we’ve got to grow. A year ago, we were probably the thinnest football team in the world, 69 scholarship players, and I love the way that we grew. We’ve got to continue to develop our roster from top to bottom, and create some depth.”

UF head coach Billy Napier

As for current UF head coach Billy Napier, Heupel said they’re newly acquainted after meeting Feb. 10 at the SEC’s annual gathering of head coaches. 

He’s far more familiar with the man whose namesake is everywhere, Spurrier. 

“The first time I actually met him, he was doing a treadmill workout in Oklahoma,” Heupel said. “I was a player and he was there seeing his son, and I don’t know how long of a run he was on, he had a good sweat going. But I was just able to sit down and pick his brain a little bit about football and offensive play and his development of quarterbacks at that time.”

In an ever-changing sport, where additions from the transfer portal to name, image and likeness have created an evolving landscape, Heupel continues to lean on figures such as Spurrier when it comes to being flexible to adaptation. 

“In some ways, just the last 12 to 24 months, the rapid changes to college football have drastically and dramatically changed, you know, what college football day-to-day life is, for players and for coaches, too,” Heupel said. “And I think you always are trying to learn from those that have gone before you, and (Spurrier's ability to be innovative, to be out in front, to continue to evolve and change — he’s done it at three different collegiate programs. Absolutely those are things that you learn from.”