- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

It is almost game time at Cole Field House, and 14,500 spectators jump to their feet as the Maryland pep band begins playing "Hail to the Chief" and a tall, balding man strides out of the tunnel toward the Terps' bench. Now he thrusts both hands skyward in a double "V" signal, and bedlam ensues. In College Park and much of the Washington area, college basketball is king.

All this happened more than 30 years ago, after Lefty Driesell forsook Davidson to become Maryland's coach and found that, until his recruiting efforts began yielding blue-chip fruit, he had to provide the excitement in what had been a dormant program.

This is ancient history, of course but also very current, because Lefty could return to Cole for one evening next season in what would be a deliciously delightful moment during the old building's 47th and final season.

Talks are under way to bring in Georgia State, Driesell's latest basketball employer, this November or December. It's not definite yet, but Georgia State AD Greg Manning a former Maryland player, broadcaster and athletic department official says everything could be wrapped up soon.

For a proper perspective on such a game, let's turn to Jim Kehoe, the former Maryland AD who brought Driesell to Terptown in 1969 and remains one of his closest friends. Said Kehoe: "It would be monumental no, that's an understatement."

He's right, of course. I doubt that Lefty would do anything dramatic upon his return, because presumably he has mellowed at 69 and, after all, Maryland is Gary Williams' turf. But for veteran Terp-watchers, just having him on the premises would be poignant. Handkerchiefs, anyone?

Driesell coached Maryland for 17 turbulent seasons before resigning in the wake of star Len Bias' cocaine-induced death in 1986 and a subsequent in-house investigation. Many people felt Lefty was made a scapegoat, but that's beside the point now. What matters is that he has soldiered on as a coach, producing winning teams first at James Madison and then Georgia State. Now, with 747 victories over 42 seasons, he stands alone as the nation's winningest active Division I coach.

When Driesell turned up at Georgia State a few years ago, the Atlanta school was a roundball wilderness. His first team won 16 games. His second and third won 17 each. This season his team is 14-2 and headed for a likely NCAA tournament berth, even though Lefty hasn't been around for all the games.

A couple of months ago, the doctors told him that the pain in his neck came not from nosy media but from a serious medical condition that could result in permanent paralysis. So in an eight-hour operation, he had a piece of bone from his hip fused to his upper neck a procedure that probably was even less fun than it sounds and missed six games.

Now he's back on the bench, but the brace he must wear for the rest of the season prevents him from chastising officials unless they're right in front of him.

As Lefty said one memorable day during his Maryland tenure, "Ah kin coach." He comes up pretty big in the courage department, too.

As you might expect, he's a bit feisty about the possibility of playing Maryland next season.

"I haven't given it a lot of thought," he said on the phone the other day. "I'd only play them if they came down here, too. Right now, I'm not fired up about going back to Maryland."

Really?

"I don't know if I'd enjoy it or not."

Trust me, he would.

Williams sounds more enthusiastic about the idea than Lefty, although no remarks made by coaches in season should be taken as gospel truth.

"It's a possibility, that's all right now," Williams said. "But it would be nice for Lefty, and it would be nice for the fans."

Also, it would be fun watching these two super-intense coaches have at each other, Gary crouching in front of his bench and Lefty snarling in front of his. In 11-plus seasons at Maryland, Williams' record is 229-131 (.636). Driesell's 17-year tally was 348-159 (.686). Unfortunately, neither has gotten the Terps to a Final Four, much less a national title. Lefty has always insisted he never promised to make Maryland "the UCLA of the East" when he hit town in '69, but that was sort of the idea.

So will the big game happen? It has to, simply because it would be so right.

"Everywhere I go, people still talk about, respect and admire Lefty," Kehoe said. "There hasn't been the same degree of excitement around here since he left."

That's open to debate, but certainly there would be plenty of excitement if the Lefthander does return. Let's keep our fingers crossed.


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