- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

At the apparent end of his 41-year college coaching career, Lefty Driesell remained as witty and downhome as ever.
"In my next life, I want to get a Duke job, or a North Carolina or a UCLA," Driesell said during a news conference in Atlanta yesterday after retiring abruptly as men's basketball coach at Georgia State the last of four schools he took to the NCAA tournament. "I've never taken over a program that's in really good shape."
Nonetheless, the Lefthander didn't do badly. He compiled a 786-394 record at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State, winning more than 100 games at each, although he never gained the ultimate prize of an NCAA championship. He stopped 14 games short of 800 wins, a goal achieved by only Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and North Carolina's Dean Smith.
In a telephone interview last night, Driesell was philosophical about his retirement, saying, "It had to come. I need some time off. [Coaching] got to become a drag. I'd been thinking about it for a couple of years. but when Midnight Madness came [in October], I got all excited again."
He noted that Georgia State already had played nine road games, with seven more to come, and added, "It's the road games that get you all that waiting around all day."
Driesell, who underwent neck surgery during the 2000-01 season, had been troubled by bronchitis this season. He missed Thursday night's game against Furman, with Georgia State's team being handled by assistant Mike Perry, who was named interim coach yesterday. The Panthers have a 4-6 record this season.
"I woke up New Year's Day, and I told [wife] Joyce, 'I've worked 49 years [since graduating from college], and most people retire after 25 years,'" Driesell said. "I'm just tired, and I've got this bad cold and I'm looking forward to not having a job."
Despite his 348 victories in 17 seasons at Maryland (1969-86), Driesell never took the Terrapins or any other of his teams to the Final Four. However, his arrival in College Park sparked new interest in the Terps and helped revive college basketball throughout the Washington area as other Division I schools also upgraded their programs.
"I knew what it was here when he arrived at Maryland," Terps coach Gary Williams said in a statement. "When you look at guys with influence during that time, he was right there with Red Auerbach, [Georgetowns] John Thompson and [DeMatha High Schools] Morgan Wootten in getting this to be a basketball area."
Known as a superb recruiter, Driesell brought many blue-chip prospects to Maryland, including Tom McMillen the nation's consensus No.1 prep player in 1970. However, he lost perhaps his biggest catch when All-American Moses Malone decided to turn pro rather than attend Maryland in 1974.
Driesell's long coaching tenure at Maryland ended on a negative note in 1986, when star Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics. An investigation revealed academic shortcomings and drug use among basketball players, and Driesell was forced out.
After two years in a figurehead role as an associate athletic director at Maryland, Driesell became coach at James Madison, leading the Dukes to five regular-season Colonial Athletic Association titles. Fired by the Harrisonburg, Va., school after a 20-loss season, he moved to Georgia State in 1997.
A native of Virginia's Tidewater area, Driesell began coaching at Newport News High School in 1956 after leading Duke to a top-10 ranking as a senior in 1954 and graduating with honors. He moved in 1960 to Davidson and soon had the Wildcats competing on a national level.
Maryland basketball had been dormant for years under first Bud Millikan and then Frank Fellows until athletic director Jim Kehoe hired Driesell in the spring of 1969. At his first news conference, Driesell promised to make the Terrapins "the UCLA of the East."
Although his first two teams hovered around .500, Driesell aroused the increasing crowds at Cole Field House by thrusting both hands aloft in the "V" for victory sign as he strode onto the court while the pep band played "Hail to the Chief." The following year, the Terps finished 27-5 and won the NIT.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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