Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
South Carolina’s Steve Taneyhill was one of the freest spirits to play football in the SEC over the last two decades.
His trademark hair flowed out the back of his helmet and down his back. He was a renowned trash-talker on the field, loved to play to the crowd and carved out a memorable career in the early 1990s that saw him set many of the Gamecocks’ passing records.
Today, Taneyhill, 36, remains right in the middle of the game he loves. He’s one of the most successful high school football coaches in the state of South Carolina.
His Chesterfield High School team has won the last two Class A state championships, and Taneyhill says this is his best team yet. He started his coaching career at Cambridge Academy in Greenwood, S.C., and coached eight-man football. His star player on that team was Gaines Adams, now a defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Adams hasn't forgotten his coach. He still buys shoes for the entire Chesterfield team every year.
This is Taneyhill’s 10th year overall as a head coach. He’s played for six state titles and won four.
His competitive juices race as freely now as they once did at Williams-Brice Stadium when he would romp around the field pumping his first after throwing a touchdown pass.
But, no, he doesn’t still have the long hair.
“Actually, I don’t have much hair at all,” Taneyhill said laughing. “My players come over to the house and laugh when they see the pictures of me with the long hair.
“I tell them the same thing I tell everybody. I was 18,19 and 20 and having the time of my life. Those were great times. We can all laugh about it now, which is the best part.”
Because of his coaching responsibilities, Taneyhill isn’t able to get to many of South Carolina’s games. But he will be there Saturday night for the Florida Atlantic game and will honored along with several other players.
Taneyhill, who took over as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback as a freshman in 1992, is the school’s all-time leader in pass completions (753) and passing touchdowns (62) and is second to Todd Ellis in passing yards (8,782).
He has a long list of fond memories from his playing days, but being a part of the first South Carolina team to ever win a bowl game is right there at the top.
He was named the MVP in South Carolina’s 24-21 win over West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl following the 1994 season. Up until that point, the Gamecocks had never won a bowl game.
“The significance of that game for South Carolina as a whole is what makes that one special,” Taneyhill said. “For the rest of our lives, we’ll always be remembered as the team that broke the drought.”
As much as anything, Taneyhill will be remembered for the emotion he played the game with, whether it was ripping of his helmet after a touchdown pass, saluting the crowd, hitting an imaginary home run to the crowd, even leaving his autograph on an opposing field.
That’s right, one of his most memorable acts was pretending to sign the Tiger Paw at midfield in Clemson’s Death Valley in 1992 following a key touchdown. Taneyhill never lost at Death Valley, and Clemson fans have never forgiven him for his scurrilous defacing of the Tiger Paw.
Ironically enough, Taneyhill has spoken in the past at the Clemson coaching clinic, helped steer Adams to Clemson when South Carolina wasn’t interested and remains extremely close with Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott, who was Taneyhill’s head coach at South Carolina his last two seasons.
“I still take a lot of grief for the whole Tiger Paw thing,” Taneyhill said. “But at least I have some support there at Clemson with coach Scott and Chris Rumph, who I played with at South Carolina and is now the defensive line coach at Clemson.”
Taneyhill said the three best players he played against at South Carolina were Clemson safety Brian Dawkins, Florida defensive lineman Kevin Carter and Tennessee defensive end Leonard Little.
He said the only player who rivaled him as a trash-talker was Clemson defensive tackle Brentson Buckner.
“We would be going at it before the snap when we were at the line, and I'm there trying to call the snap count,” Taneyhill said. “But after the game, he was the first guy I was looking for, and I was the first guy he was looking for. It was all in fun. He was a fun guy to play against.”
Taneyhill still isn’t sure how he was bitten by the coaching bug. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, though. His father, Art, was a high school basketball coach in Altoona, Pa., and his sister, Debbie, was the head women’s basketball coach at George Mason for 10 years.
“I couldn’t imagine not coaching now,” said Taneyhill, who spent a year in NFL Europe and a year playing in the Arena League after leaving South Carolina. “It’s the closet thing to playing again and feeling that competitive rush.”
Taneyhill has come to love the small-town life in Chesterfield. He’s had opportunities to go to bigger schools, but nothing has been able to pry him away from the town of about 1,300 that sits right on top of the North Carolina border and is some 80 miles northeast of Columbia.
When he’s not coaching, Taneyhill can usually be found in a deer stand. He has 26 acres on his property and got heavily into deer hunting soon after settling in South Carolina.
“I never hunted a day in my life in Pennsylvania,” he said. “But here in South Carolina, you can deer hunt from September to January. So come Saturday morning during football season, I’m in the woods from 6 until 9, and then it’s on to school to watch film.”
Taneyhill’s even been known to do his local radio show on Saturday morning from a deer stand.
“I just whisper as low as I can,” he joked.