- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

The most interesting thing about Lefty Driesell was that you never knew what he would say.
No, I take that back. The most interesting thing about Lefty Driesell was that neither did he.
Back when he was turning out powerhouses at Maryland, a sportswriter with more chutzpah than brains told him, "Your problem is that you talk before you think."
Lefty scowled, then smiled ruefully. "You're right," he said, "but I can't help it."
Some of the Lefthander's quotes are legendary, like the one about making Maryland "the UCLA of the East." Then there was "I don't care about the women's center I'm the men's center [when a player was accused of rape]" and "Goodbye, Lenny. I'll see you in heaven someday [when star Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose in 1986]." And he set a standard in obfuscation with this memorable reply to a news conference question: "Wal you know, I don't know, you know."
Despite such verbal lapses, Charles Grice Driesell survived 41 seasons as a college basketball coach with his intelligence and wit undiminished. His retirement yesterday at Georgia State, nine days after his 71st birthday, leaves a tremendous hole in his sport that won't be filled by a hundred coaches who always say and do the right thing.
Lefty was and remains an original. His southern Virginia drawl, glowering appearance on the sideline and reputation as primarily a superb recruiter tended to obscure the fact that the man was one heck of a bench coach.
You don't win 786 games and take four schools to the NCAA tournament by being a dunderhead. If some chose to regard Lefty in the manner once suggested by Duke's Cameron Crazies who wore skullcaps bearing the image of a gas gauge on empty that was fine with him. In an ACC populated by such rigidly proper types as North Carolina's Dean Smith and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski Lefty and N.C. State's Jim Valvano were their own men.
When Smith and Coach K won their first NCAA titles, you wondered if they would allow even one hair to fall out of place during the postgame celebrations. When the late Valvano won his in 1983, he galloped frantically and memorably around the court looking for somebody to hug. I like to think Lefty would have been equally unrestrained in his hour of greatest triumph. Unfortunately, it never arrived.
That was one of two sad things about his career. The other was the way he bore the role of scapegoat at Maryland following Bias' death and the ensuing investigation into the university's control of its athletes.
Was Lefty aware of each breath taken and each act performed by his players? Of course not and neither is any other coach.
You set down rules, you suspend or kick off jocks who break them and you hope for the best. That's all you can do because, after all, college athletes are young men (or women) with reasonably healthy libidos. And for every true student-athlete like Rhodes Scholar Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas, there is likely to be another who is in college only to play ball and pursue fortune in the NBA. That's the nature of the game.
It's interesting that neither Driesell nor Bobby Knight two of the perceived bad boys of college coaching in terms of intensity and single-mindedness has been in trouble with the NCAA. Now the General will beat the Lefthander to 800 wins, a mountain previously scaled by Adolph Rupp and Smith. And Driesell's comment on the matter at yesterday's news conference in Atlanta was the purest Lefty: "That doesn't mean much to me. If it did, I wouldn't have scheduled all those Mississippis, Oklahomas and Auburns and all those early road games. I would have scheduled the Three Sisters of the Poor [sic]."
Driesell's boss at Georgia State was former Maryland guard Greg Manning, but the reversal of their roles never bothered either. Said Manning last night: "It's a bittersweet day, but the nice thing is that Coach is going out like he wanted he deserves that. I just think he didn't want to battle anymore."
If Lefty leaves a legacy, it might be in perseverance. Through good times and bad, he endured coaching Georgia State in recent years with as much vim and vigor as he had at Maryland in the '70s, age permitting.
"I guess he feels he's done about all that he could do," said Terry Holland, who played for Driesell at Davidson and matched wits with him for many years as coach at Virginia. "I'd guess that life will be a lot more fun for him now. But you have to admire how he stuck in there. Not many coaches probably including myself would have gone down to a second and even third [basketball] level after he left Maryland."
Perhaps the greatest example of Driesell's tenacity came two years ago, when he missed several games following delicate neck surgery and returned to lead Georgia State a commuter school that had been a basketball wilderness until his arrival into the NCAA tournament. Somehow it seemed appropriate that the Panthers were evicted from the NCAAs by Maryland a full-circle kind of thing.
Forty-odd years ago, Lefty quit peddling encyclopedias and came storming out of Tidewater to produce first-class programs at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and finally Georgia State, If Len Bias had kept his nose clean, literally, Driesell might now be ending a tenure of more than three decades in College Park. But according to Lefty's code, you don't complain about the hands you're dealt you just play the living daylights out of them.
Like many media wretches who scribbled down his quotes and endured his occasional burst of temper, I haven't always liked dealing with Lefty Driesell but I've always respecsted him. He will be greatly missed.

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