- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Before we get too excited about Maryland's promising prospects in the NCAA tournament, we should understand that the school already this month has blown one big time and I don't mean last weekend's relatively insignificant loss to N.C. State in the ACC's annual postseason funfest.
By not inviting Lefty Driesell to the closing ceremonies at Cole Field House 10 days ago, Maryland's athletic department revealed itself as shamefully disrespectful of and uninterested in its own past.
In a word, the omission was unforgivable.
If you haven't been around long enough to remember, let it be said that Lefty Driesell built Cole Field House, as surely as if he had applied the mortar and stacked the bricks. To everyone involved with college basketball and sports in the Washington area, he represented Cole Field House. Putting it as simply as possible, he was Cole Field House.
Before he arrived in 1969, the place was a morgue.
Afterward, it was a madhouse.
When Lefty strode onto the court, thrusting both hands aloft in the "V" signal while the pep band played "Hail to the Chief," supreme excitement reigned supreme.
Driesell was one of three famous team leaders who brightened our scene unbelievably in the spring of '69. But Vince Lombardi coached the Redskins for only one season before colon cancer claimed him, and Ted Williams had only one successful season managing the Senators.
Lefty hung around for 17 years, going to eight NCAA tournaments, and might be there yet if the fallout from Len Bias' cocaine-related death had descended on some other unfortunate head.
Even now, at the untender age of 70, he is turning out strong teams at Georgia State, producing four 20-victory seasons at a school that previously didn't amount to a blip or bleep on the national scene. He has won 782 games, and with any luck he might beat Bobby Knight to 800 next season a level reached only by Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. And he is one of only three coaches to have taken four institutions to the Big Dance: Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State.
Whether or not you love Lefty, and I haven't always, you have to respect him. But by declining to invite him to Cole, the people in charge of Maryland athletics did him, his former players, fans and themselves a huge disservice.
Athletic director Debbie Yow did not return phone calls regarding the matter. Associate AD Dave Haglund told The Washington Times last week that "we narrowed our focus to bring back all those teams and players there were no administrators in the postgame ceremonies at all."
Really? Then the man introduced as former coach Bud Millikan must have been an impostor.
Actually, Maryland deserves credit, or something, for making a clean sweep in the ignorance department. Of the four folks who made Terrapins basketball what it became, none was invited. Equally scorned were Jim Kehoe, who was student, track coach and athletic director at College Park for nearly 50 years and who hired Lefty; Col. Tom Fields, who raised tons of money for Maryland athletics as head of the Terrapin Club; and Russ Potts, who became the nation's first college sports promotions director in the early '70s.
For shame.
In his public statements, Driesell has insisted that he wasn't offended by not being invited, but that is a big, fat fib. A friend who talked to Lefty for an hour described him as "humiliated and embarrassed," which he had every right to be. This was the equivalent of the Packers holding ceremonies and not inviting Lombardi when he lived, or the Yankees tossing a celebration and stiffing Babe Ruth.
Making it even worse, in Lefty's case, was that most of the players who set the crowd to screaming at Cole's big finale were his players. And when his name was cited as a former coach "who couldn't be here," his name was misspelled on the scoreboard.
Is there some nefarious plot afoot to expunge Charles Grice Driesell from Maryland's basketball annals, almost as though he were a disgraced Soviet premier in the Cold War days? I hope not, but I don't know.
We can believe only that Maryland acted either through (a) ignorance or (b) malice aforethought. I don't have a clue.
Yow has wrought miraculous financial magic during her tenure as boss of jock matters at Maryland, and this has been the best competitive year for revenue sports in school history: A 10-1 football team that went to the Orange Bowl and a fourth-ranked men's basketball team that stands a good chance of returning to the Final Four. But didn't Willie Shakespeare say that the past is prologue? Why disdain a good part of it, the best part of it?
Look at it this way: At Maryland, March Madness started much too early.


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