Why 'Last Chance U' Coach John Beam Is the 'Godfather' of Football in Oakland

Josh St. Clair

From Men's Health

  • Last Chance U season 5 is now on Netflix.

  • The season follows the Laney College Eagles' 2019 season, coached by John Beam.

  • Beam is an Oakland football legend, and has been coaching now for over 40 years.

Laney College's Eagles—the football team profiled in season five of Netflix's Last Chance U—is lead by coach John Beam, an Oakland legend. The 2019 season marked Beam's 40th season as a football coach in Oakland. It was his fifteenth at Laney. Beam was brought into the program in 2004 as a running back coach. He became the Offensive Coordinator a year later, helping lead the Eagles to 3 conference championships. He took over the head coaching job in 2012, and six years later, the Eagles won the state championship.

The John Beam that we see in Last Chance U, however, doesn't seem to be the John Beam of past seasons, an observation made by many coaches and former players.

Throughout the series, other coaches suggested that Beam had mellowed from previous coaching seasons; that he used to be harder on players—like, a lot harder. Beam, too, reflected how his current players seemed more entitled than previous teams and that perhaps he had contributed to coddling them. (The coaching staff tension for much of the season centers on an "old school" vs. "new school" approach, though the two strategies are never defined.)

There wasn't much coddling in the past, however. Only winning.

Here are a few things to know about Coach Beam.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Beam is fiercely loyal to Oakland.

Beam moved to Oakland in 1982 to coach at Skyline High School. (As Head Coach, the team had 4 undefeated seasons and took home 15 league championships. Beam's record during his time at Skyline: 160-33-3.)

The Times-Herald called Beam the "godfather of football in Oakland," not only because of his tenure, but his dedication to the community. Beam would go out of his way to advocate for Oakland high school students, calling reporters to help give the players exposure and scholarship opportunities. Some of these players weren't even his own.

In the Netflix series, Beam's coaches also report that he received D1 coaching offers, which he declined, opting to stay in Oakland.

He's produced lots of Division I talent.

Beam himself may not have been going D1, but many of his players have. While at Skyline alone, Beam sent over 100 players to Division I college football programs. Some even helped take home NCAA Division I National Championships.

And NFL talent, too.

Beam has coached over 20 NFL players, including running back C.J. Anderson (who has probably been on your fantasy football team at least once) and former Pro Bowl tackle Marvel Smith. In total, 7 of Beam's former players have played in the Super Bowl.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

He doesn't think of Laney as a "last chance university."

The premise of the Netflix docuseries is that junior college football programs act as professional Hail Marys; players go there for one final shot at college sports dreams.

Beam didn't like this characterization, saying,“I told [Netflix] we’re not ‘Last Chance U. We’re your first chance. We’re your Best Chance U.”

Beam went on to explain. “All those kids from the other [seasons] either left school, got kicked out from a four-year school or something. Well, that’s not us. You’re the kids who came here for a reason. To better your grades or better your football outlook. We’re your best chance.”

More than anything, Beam is most proud of this final point. Under Beam, the Laney Football program boasts a 90 percent graduation and transfer rate.

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