HOOVER, Ala. - After two disappointing seasons coaching the Washington Redskins and then spending a year away from football, Steve Spurrier had to get back in the game.
"I wanted to go out a winner, not a loser," Spurrier recalled Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days. "Fortunately, South Carolina was really the best opportunity I could ever ask for."
Spurrier's decision to return to the college ranks in November 2004 has paid monstrous dividends for the Gamecocks as well as for him personally. South Carolina is a scorching 33-6 the past three seasons, which is a big reason Spurrier is on a historic doorstep.
Once expected to work just five or six years in Columbia, Spurrier is a few weeks away from becoming the first in SEC annals to coach a decade at two institutions. The 69-year-old guided Florida to six conference titles and one national championship from 1990 to 2001.
"I guess he chose to stay because he knew we had the chance to do some great things," Gamecocks senior guard A.J. Cann said. "We've had great teams these past couple of years, and he's built that."
After coaching the Gamecocks to a 35-28 record in his first five seasons, Spurrier led them to a 9-5 mark and their only SEC East championship in 2010. Three 11-2 seasons have ensued for a program that had just one 10-win season previously.
A conference title remains an elusive goal, but it seems Spurrier is having more fun than ever trying.
"I do enjoy it," he said. "Obviously you never know what your path in life is going to lead to. When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach in the NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch.
"I found out later that was a bad plan, but that's the way I was thinking back then."
The Gamecocks closed last season with six consecutive victories, a streak that began with a memorable 27-24 win at Missouri in double overtime. It included a fifth straight win over rival Clemson and a 34-24 win over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
South Carolina's surge was rewarded with a No. 4 ranking in both major polls, the highest final ranking in program history.
This year's offense returns eight starters and inserts senior Dylan Thompson as the starting quarterback. Thompson already has valuable experience, having subbed for injured Connor Shaw in a win at Clemson in 2012 and a win at Central Florida last season.
Thompson said he never thought about transferring and is happy Spurrier has stuck around, too.
"He hasn't changed since I've gotten here," Thompson said. "He's the same guy, and he's probably in a little better mood because we've won more compared to when I first got here. He is fun and has energy, and he is passionate every day in practice.
"I'm sure he is coaching just as hard now as he did back in the day."
South Carolina's defense returns six starters but is moving on without end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 pick in May's NFL draft.
Spurrier gave Gamecocks supporters a lot of credit for the program's turnaround, pointing out there had been one booster give over $1 million to the program before his arrival and now there are 12 or 13.
He also got a little giddy talking about future Gamecocks, who could wind up keeping him at South Carolina for a longer run than he had with the Gators.
"I read in the paper the other day that Rivals.com had us second in the nation in recruiting," he said. "Of course, Alabama is No. 1, but hopefully all those commitments will stick."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.