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Spurrier takes blame for 7-6 season

There might have been a time (or two) over the last few months when Steve Spurrier wondered if the time had come to pull the shade on his Hall of Fame coaching career, but any reports of his coaching demise have been greatly exaggerated.

"It was a disappointing season for all of us, some dark days," Spurrier told ESPN.com. "But that's history now and away we go."

After three straight 11-win seasons, South Carolina dipped to 7-6 this season and lost four games in which the Gamecocks were either tied or led going into the fourth quarter. Spurrier, who will turn 70 in April, conceded that he contemplated hanging it up following the regular season. He even had a couple of conversations with South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner along those lines.

But with the Gamecocks rebounding to win their bowl game over Miami, giving them three wins in their last four games, Spurrier said he's in a much better place now and as energized as ever to return the program to prominence after finishing in the top 10 all three seasons from 2011 to '13.

"When you do it as long as I have, and you lose games the way we did this year, you have those thoughts that maybe it's time to let somebody else come in here and do this," Spurrier said. "You wonder, 'What am I doing?' That's only normal, but I think everybody knows now that I've still got four or five more years in me.

"I've always said that I won't retire. I'll resign, sort of like what (77-year-old) Dick LeBeau said the other day when he resigned from the Steelers. He said that he wasn't retiring. I feel the same way. Retiring sounds too much like you're going to quit and do nothing."

Even with the down season, South Carolina still beat rivals Florida and Georgia. Spurrier is now 15-5 over his last five seasons against the Gamecocks' top four rivals -- Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. The Gamecocks' bowl victory was their fourth straight, which is one more than they had won in their entire school history when Spurrier arrived in 2005.

"There are still a lot of positives, but we also know we performed very poorly for a lot of this season," said Spurrier, whose 10-5 record over the last three seasons against teams finishing in the final AP Top 25 poll is the best in the SEC.

"As a coach, all you can ever ask is to play as hard as you can, play as smart as you can, and the outcome will take care of itself. We didn't do either of those this year. As a team, we didn't play with tremendous effort or smarts, and I think that's a big reason we lost the games we did. That starts with me as the head coach."

Spurrier's promise to his players, coaches and the South Carolina fans is that his commitment will be stronger than ever going forward. And if the Gamecocks are going to get back to where they were from 2011 to '13, Spurrier said there needs to be a stronger bond than there was this season.

The team began morning runs Friday, and Spurrier was there just before 6 a.m.

"I'm looking forward to sort of reinventing South Carolina football," Spurrier said. "I was down there this morning, and guys were looking around and saying, 'What is coach doing here?' Everybody was there and running, too, but one guy with a bad knee. I told them that I was going to try and be there every Friday morning at 6 a.m. when I'm in town. I told them that we all needed to make a little better commitment, and it starts with me.

"We need a little bit more togetherness, a little bit more of the team liking each other. When you have a year like we did, you've got to do something different, get more involved. We've got to become closer as a team. We had players when the game was over and we lost this year acting like it didn't bother them a bit. Sometimes that happens to teams and players get like that, and when it does, you've got to do something about it."

The Gamecocks struggled on defense all season. They finished 12th in the SEC in scoring defense and 13th in total defense. They gave up two-touchdown leads in the fourth quarter in three of their losses.

"We had chances to make first downs and hold leads and didn't," Spurrier said. "We might have overestimated our whole team, but everything starts with the head coach, and then it goes to the assistants. If we leave guys on the field who don't want to tackle and don't even try to tackle, that's our fault. We did that some, and that's sad. It's not going to happen again.

"We've got some good players coming in, a lot better defensive players coming in, we think, than we played with last year. We'll find out."

Spurrier isn't oblivious to the fact that his age is also being used against him in recruiting and that his statement back in December that he might be on the "two- to three-year plan" scared off some recruits.

"That's how we lost a few this year, people telling recruits that, 'Coach has about had it or you never know who's going to be your coach,' if you go to South Carolina," Spurrier said. "My response is that the vice president [Joe Biden] is older than me. Heck, Hillary Clinton. ... We're about two years apart from each other [in age], and she's thinking about running for president. What I have to do is quit telling myself my age number. In life, if a person looks old and acts old and talks old, then he's probably old.

"Sometimes, you just have to forget the number on your age and physically and mentally see where you're at, and that sort of determines your ability to function. I know I've got a lot left in me to keep coaching."