Driesell, the lefty, folksy, flamboyant coach who put Maryland on the college basketball map, dies at 92


COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Lefty Driesell, the Hall of Fame coach whose men unleashed a fiery demeanor on the court that put Maryland on the college basketball map and enabled him to rebuild several struggling programs, has died. He died on Saturday. He was 92 years old.

Maryland announces Driesell’s death. Driesell died at his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Driesell finished with 786 wins over five decades and was the first coach to win more than 100 games at four NCAA Division I schools. He started at Davidson in 1960 before leading Maryland to national prominence from 1969–86, a stay that ended with the cocaine-induced death of All-American Len Bias.

Driesell then won five regular season conference titles in nine seasons at James Madison and finished with a successful run at Georgia State from 1997 to 2003.

“His contributions to the game go far beyond wins and losses and he’s won a lot,” former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Driesell made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. “This is an honor he has long deserved.” ,

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Driesell started the college basketball tradition known as Midnight Madness on October 15, 1971. At three minutes after midnight on the first day of NCAA-sanctioned practice, Driesell asked his players to run a mandatory mile on the Maryland football indoor track. Stadium.

Lighting was provided by the headlights of some cars parked at one end of the stadium. The inspiration came from Driesell’s encouragement and the estimated 800 students who gathered to watch this unpublicized event.

Driesell said years later, “I’ve done a lot of crazy things to get attention, but that wasn’t one of them.” “I was just trying to get a jump start in practice. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Driesell also helped bring down racial barriers in college sports. He became the first black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference by hiring George Raveling as an assistant in 1969. Driesell’s effort to recruit Charlie Scott to play at Davidson helped the future NBA star become the first African American scholarship athlete to attend North Carolina.

Scott initially committed to Davidson before choosing UNC but acknowledged that Driesell paved the way.

“I think if there was never a Lefty Driskell, there would never have been a Charlie Scott attending North Carolina,” said Scott, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018 with Driskell. “My commitment to go to Davidson really opened up all the other schools in the recruiting process.”

Race played no role in Driesell’s effort to recruit the best players.

“He did a lot of great things in marketing the game and opened a lot of doors for a lot of African American players and coaches like me,” said Len Elmore, who played for Driesell at Maryland from 1971–74. “Lefty was a pioneer and innovator.”

Walking into the Maryland courtroom to the tune of “Hail to the Chief”, Driesell stood and threw both hands in the air to thunderous applause – two fingers on each hand extended with a V for victory sign. On the sidelines, he would often stomp his foot to show his displeasure at a call, and if things got really intense, he would take off his sports jacket, toss it on the floor and stomp on it.

Still, Driesell rarely raised his voice off the court and had a habit of charming the parents of potential recruits with a confident, homely style that smacked of his Southern roots.

“He had a big personality, he was an excellent recruiter and he helped put Maryland basketball on the map,” said Brad Davis, who was a guard at Maryland from 1974-77 before going to the NBA.

Driesell was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, but his induction into Naismith Temple proved more elusive. He was a finalist four times before receiving the required 75% of the vote three months after his 86th birthday. Many speculated that the lengthy censure was because Driesell was forced to resign at Maryland after Bias overdosed on cocaine in a campus dormitory after being drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986.

Maryland had to pay Driesell the remainder of his 10-year contract because it found no wrongdoing on his part. But his departure meant that Driesell would never be able to fulfill the proclamation he made when he took over at College Park – that he would make Maryland the “UCLA of the East.”

Under Driesell, the Terrapins did not enjoy the success of John Wooden at UCLA. Maryland failed to reach the Final Four during his 17-year stay, but the Terps won or shared five ACC regular-season titles and captured the league tournament in 1984 – Driesell’s fifth trip to the final.

Recalling his “formerly UCLA” claim, Driesell quipped: “I was drunk when I said it or something. But we were very good and we played very well. We had a lot of Was a great player.”

Before Driesell arrived at Maryland, the team was an ACC doormat and had trouble drawing fans to the old Cole Field house. After going 13–13 in Driesell’s first season, the Terps announced their resurgence on January 9, 1971, defeating No. 2 South Carolina 31–30 in overtime at home. There was no shot clock at the time, so Driesell ordered his players to slow the game down against a team that had defeated Maryland 96–70 only three weeks earlier.

One of Driesell’s best teams never made the postseason. In the 1974 ACC Championship Game, the fourth-ranked Terrapins lost 103–100 in overtime to No. 1 North Carolina State, at a time when only conference champions advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

A week later, the Maryland team of future NBA starters Tom McMillan, John Lucas and Elmore turned down a bid to the NIT, which it had won two years earlier. NC State won the 1974 NCAA title, ending UCLA’s seven-year streak as national champion.

“Lefty’s team that year,” Krzyzewski said, “was probably as good as the 20 national champions.”

Born Charles Grice Driskell on Christmas Day 1931, he grew up in Norfolk, Virginia. Before attending Duke he was a star basketball player for Granby High in Norfolk.

After working at the Ford Motor Company, Driesell took a job as the junior varsity football and basketball coach at Granby in 1954 after convincing his wife, Joyce, that he could cope with a pay cut by selling encyclopedias. He was eventually promoted to head coach of the varsity team before moving to Newport News High, where he won 57 consecutive games.

In 1960, he took a job at Davidson, which was coming off its 11th consecutive losing season. He went 9–14 in his debut, one of only two times throughout the season in which he posted a losing record as a college coach.

Driskell won three Southern Conference tournaments and five regular season championships in nine years at Davidson and went 176–65 before being hired at Maryland. He won 348 games with the Terrapins, a long-standing school record that was eventually broken by Gary Williams in 2006.

Williams won the NCAA title in 2002. When he arrived home, a note from Driesell was waiting for him. It read: “Gary, you have made Maryland the UCLA of the East. Congratulations.”

After leaving Maryland, Driesell was hired in 1988 by James Madison, a small school in Virginia that had a 10–18 mark in 1987. He went 16–14 in his first year, 20–11 in his second season and led the Dukes to four consecutive NITs. First appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1994.

Driesell compiled a 159–111 record at James Madison and enjoyed continued success at Georgia State. The Panthers were 29–5 in 2000–01 and upset Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Two years later, he retired at the start of his 41st season with a career record of 786–394. At the time, he ranked fourth in NCAA Division I wins, behind only Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp and Bob Knight.

Ultimately, at the age of 71, enough had happened to the man fondly known to many as the old left-hander.

“I’m just tired and I’ve had a lot of colds and I’m going to retire,” Driesell said. “I’m waiting for no job. I can get up whenever I want and do whatever I want.

Driesell has four children. While at Duke, Driesell eloped with Joyce and married in December 1952. He died in 2021.

The couple’s only son, Chuck, played for the Terrapins under his father from 1981–85 and became his father’s assistant at James Madison. He was hired as coach at The Citadel in 2010 and was fired after five losing seasons.

While helping his father at James Madison, Chuck Driskell learned the rigors of coaching.

“Dad gave me a lot of responsibility and we worked hard,” he said. “As a son and a player, I’m not sure I understood how hard he worked. I understood it very quickly.”

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