Mar 2

Interview With: Steve Taneyhill

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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If you are a sports fan in the Palmetto State, then you have probably heard of Steve Taneyhill. And what likely comes to mind upon first hearing his name are thoughts of him (and his long hair) causing pain to the Clemson nation with two wins in Death Valley - 1992 and 1994. But there is more that needs to be known about this man. For example, he is now the proud recipient of five South Carolina state championships at the high school level in just ten years of coaching....
 
Chesterfield, South Carolina is in the middle of nowhere - and I do mean nowhere! On paper, it is just 45 minutes from the Charlotte area. But let me tell you the truth: in those last 30 minutes of driving you will see little more than woods, fields, and an occasional home or two. And that is just how Taneyhill likes it. Here, he says, is where the heart of football is: the small towns where football is the biggest thing around. So when he was offered the job to become the head coach in a town where a passion is much stronger than its previous decades of actual on-the-field performance, he jumped at it.
 
Pre-Taneyhill, Chesterfield High School was not known as a football powerhouse. But that has changed. As I said above, the Rams have won the title three years straight, and Taneyhill says he would not be the least bit surprised to see them back there again in 2010. He has many key players returning, but I get the feeling that it is the overall program attitude that has made this "Byrnesesque" at a smaller level.
 
So through the kind act of a friend, I was able to meet Coach Taneyhill in his office at Chesterfield High School, and this is how things went:
 
TheTopFan: "Thanks for having me in for a few minutes this morning....Well coach, I like to get straight to the point (laughing). I am a Clemson fan, and back in 1992, as a 14-year old kid, you had me almost in tears! Here I am in my seat at MY stadium, and you are out there beating us and signing your name on the Tiger Paw. Even worse, you beat us again in 1994 - never losing in Death Valley....Could you please take us back to those two games?"
 
Steve Taneyhill: "Well, the thing about '92 was not being from the state of South Carolina, I didn't realize just what a big game this was, how important it was. I guess you could say I was a rookie to the rivalry. But that game was a fun game. You know, 1992, how we finished that year was a big thing, finishing with winning 5 out of 6 and then obviously winning at Clemson in Death Valley was awfully special. But for me it was neat to see how my teammates reacted. You know, the guys who played here in the state of South Carolina in high school. They were playing a bunch of their friends, and just how the crowd and the stadium was and all. And then in 1994, the thing about that game that I remember the most was the trick play on the kickoff to open the second half. We had practiced it for two weeks and were gonna use it against Florida. But in that game Florida beat us pretty good and we held it, so we saved it for Clemson. And in the locker room Coach Scott called for it at halftime and said we were going to do it. And you know, that's kind of what I remember about the second game at Clemson was that play, the pass back across the field and (Reggie) Richardson taking it down the sideline. It was similar to what Sean Payton called for with the Saints in the Super Bowl. He said at the beginning of halftime 'we're doing it (the onsides kick)' and that is just what Coach Scott did. He told us right away 'hey, we're doing it' and it just put an air of excitement into our locker room. It was fun. You know, all four games were fun (against Clemson), the rivalry, but mainly those two because we won up there."
 
TTF: "Did you have the slightest clue at the time that your antics in those two games would still be talked about almost 20 years later?"
 
ST: "(Laughing) Nah, I really didn't. I was 19 years old and we had played so good those last six games we were just having fun. And we had a lot of young guys playing, so it was just fun."
 
TTF: "What other games come to mind from your college career that really are memories you still think back to today sometimes as good times?"
 
ST: "It would be Mississippi State, my very first start in 1992 that was a good one. They came in ranked #15 or so, and we beat 'em at home I think it was 21-6 or so, and I will always remember that one because it was my very first start, and I think I threw two touchdowns and the whole team played good. We were 0-5 up to that point, and to just win one was a big deal, especially against a ranked team. We beat Tennessee about three weeks after that. Hank Campbell made a big hit in that game on a 2-point play, there were a lot of big hits in that game - and a lot of future NFL players in that game. Heath Shuler was playing quarterback, and they had a couple of wideouts end up going pro, too....You know, probably the most memorable win was our first bowl win (against West Virginia in the 1994 CarQuest Bowl). It was the win at Clemson in '94 that got us into the CarQuest Bowl, and then to go down and get that one, and be the first South Carolina team to win a bowl....There are some bad ones in there, too, that I don't want to remember!"
 
TTF: "Please tell us how running an offense at the major college level has prepared you for what you do right now as a head coach at this level. I know there are some obvious parallels, but what are some of the other things you pull from your playing days to find success coaching these kids?"
 
ST: "My personal feeling is that if you play quarterback at a high level, and I see the SEC as a pretty high level, is that you have to know what everybody else is doing. Playing quarterback has made it easy for me to be an offensive-minded coach at the high school level. You have to know what all five linemen are going to do, you have to know what the wideouts and running backs are going to do. So the transition from being a quarterback to a coach hasn't been hard because you already know what all of the other offensive guys are supposed to be doing."
 
TTF: "So Chesterfield High School has now won it three years in a row?"
 
ST: "That's right, three years in a row."
 
TTF: "Let's talk just for a second about the talent levels compared between the private 8-man team you coached in Greenwood (Cambridge Academy, won 2 state titles), and the talent base at Chesterfield, a 1-A program in the public school system."
 
ST: "There are talented kids everywhere. Outside of Gaines, we still had five guys play some sort of college football....You know, we are 1-A and have 600 kids. At a 4-A you have 2,000 kids. So that is 300 boys to choose from compared to 1,000 boys. So that is the difference - you just have more to choose from. Like I said, there are talented kids everywhere, it just depends on how many you've got."
 
TTF: "Let's head back to your high school days, and what made you choose to come down South away from Altoona, Pennsylvania."
 
ST: "It was several different things really. I had an opportunity to get away from home. The chance to play in the SEC had a lot to do with it, for sure. I thought I could play early. I came to a game in 1991 - in fact the Clemson game was my official visit - and I watched the quarterbacks we had and I thought I could get some playing time. And with all of this stuff, and I wanted to get away, it was just a good fit for me."
 
TTF: "Did South Carolina fly you down for that Clemson game?"
 
ST: "Yeah, it was my official visit so they could pay for all of that stuff. And that was fun and all. But to me, one of the biggest things is that I wanted to play. I didn't want to go to Florida State or UCLA or Miami where I would have to wait for three years. I wanted to play, and I knew at South Carolina I could compete for it. Not saying I was going to play, but I knew I could compete for it....It probably helped that we went 0-5 to start (1992) because it got me a shot to get in there. They needed something different."
 
TTF: "Right now you seem to be very happy here at Chesterfield, and at the high school level. But if the right opportunity were to come about, would you be interested in coaching at the college level?"
 
ST: "It would depend on the situation. I am happy here, and I have turned down lots of opportunities to coach at a bigger high school. If you are a coach, you want to be happy every day when you get up to go to work. I like coming to work. And we're winning. You know, people take jobs for all of the wrong reasons. I'm going to take a job because I want to win. I dont care about the money. I want to be able to live, obviously, but they're all good jobs. But I'm not going to leave a winning program to go somewhere where I have to build for three years and not win. I'm a high school football coach, and every coach should coach because they want to win, and we are. I don't know that it's content, but I'm happy. I like coming to work, and we have lots of good kids here. If you come to a home game here on a Friday night, you will see a lot more fans here than at some 2-A and 3-A games. When we go on the road, we take a thousand fans on the road. Fridays at 4:00 the businesses shut down. When we play Cheraw, who is just down the road, there will be 6,000 fans at the game - and look where we are. It's just such a football place."
 
TTF: "It's the real thing as far as small-town high school football. And that is what feeds the college game."
 
ST: "Oh, no doubt about it. It's just like a college football atmosphere if you come here on a Friday night before the game. You have folks cooking and bbq-ing and all of that stuff, waiting on that 7:30 game. It's a good atmosphere."
 
TTF: "And that is why I am so against the idea of college football on Friday nights. It has been discussed before, and games are practically played on almost any night anymore anyway, obviously the Thursday night game, but if they ever get to playing college games on Friday nights, college football will be losing what feeds it."
 
ST: "In Florida, and Texas, and in the South and even in some other states and in Pennsylvania, that will never go, because Friday night is high school football. But in certain areas they could get away with it. It just depends on where it is."
 
TTF: " Would you ever be interested in coaching the Gamecocks at your alma mater?"
 
ST: "If the situation was right. Like I said, I am very happy here. But it would be something I would consider if the right timing came up. It is my alma mater, and most importantly I think I could help. Of course, one day down the road I would certainly consider it."
 
TTF: "When I was driving here, I could not help but notice that I was in the middle of nowhere. On top of that, I see an outdoors magazine sitting on your desk. Are you an avid outdoorsman?"
 
ST: "Oh yeah, oh yeah! I guess I got into deer hunting when I lived in Greenwood...Deer and turkeys. You know, here, on a Saturday, if you dont have on camouflage, you're in the minority (laughing)! We just have an abundance of places to go, and a lot of deer and turkeys. And I like to play some golf and all. But mainly, it's just football. Basically from May 1st to December, I don't have time to do much. So yeah, I like to get out there when I can."
 
TTF: "Are you thinking a 4-peat is on the way?"
 
ST: "Well, I think, if you think about it, winning 3 state championships in a row is unheard of."
 
TTF: "Yeah, thats pretty solid."
 
ST: "A lot of coaches coach their whole career and don't get one. As a coach, the teams I've coached (ten years), we've won five state championships (two at Cambridge) and played for it seven times. So do I think we will get back? Yes. Our 8th grade team just went undefeated 9-0. Our JV team went undefeated at 9-0, so we have a lot of talent here. And we lost some players, too. But it's not not going to be like it was before I got here, that's for sure."
 
TTF: "One last question here before I let you go. As fans, we always here about how tough some venues are to play in. You hear about the Swamp and LSU and Clemson's Death Valleys, and Neyland Stadium and all of these places. What -to you - are, in fact, the toughest places to play that lived up to the hype? Obviously not Clemson since you were two for two!"
 
ST: "Nah, actually Clemson is way up there. I would probably say Florida and Tennessee. Florida was probably the loudest. At Tennessee, it's just a different place to play. When you come out of the locker room the fans are just right there on you out of the gate. They are on you from there. Probably Tennessee was the toughest place to play. Florida is just so loud. Tennessee is like Clemson - just so much orange it gets hard to see, but Tennessee is a bit bigger, you know, over 100,000. And Clemson isn't an easy place to play. I guess anywhere you go where it is a sell out it is going to be tough. You go to Kentucky, they aren't going to sell it out. You go to Vanderbilt they arent going to sell out. But you go to Clemson, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia you sell out. Its just all about the atmosphere. And I should have said Georgia. That is a very fun place to go. I've been down there several times not as a part of the team, just going to watch, and that is a rowdy bunch, too."
 
TTF: "Coach, thanks for your time, it is very appreciated."
 
ST: "No problem."
 
And so is that was how things went in my interview with Coach Taneyhill. While already enjoying a football career - both playing and coaching - that many folks would envy, I get the feeling Taneyhill has much more left to accomplish. Will Chesterfield High School continue to win state titles under his guidance? Or will a different school at a different level see what happens with him at the helm (hello folks down in Columbia!)? It may be a good while until we know those answers to those questions, but being a sports fan in this part of the country, I will certainly be paying attention to whatever develops.

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