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Driesell Leaves Maryland Following Controversy, But Carries Georgia State to Victories

Lefty Driesell
Charles "Lefty" Driesell (Courtesy Maryland Athletic Department)
By Nicole M. Richardson
Maryland Newsline
Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Charles G. "Lefty" Driesell has plenty of time to think about his future during his rush-hour drive to and from Georgia State University. He also has time to fine-tune his humor.

If you ask him what he's been up to since leaving his job as head coach of the University of Maryland men's basketball team in 1986, he quips: "I've become an alcoholic. ... No, I'm a preacher."

Actually, he continues to be a winning basketball coach.

He entered his 40th year of NCAA Division I coaching with 29 wins and five losses in the 2000-2001 season. Driesell has led the Panthers to an 18-9 mark so far this season.

He's racked up at least 780 career wins in his 48 years of coaching--not far behind Dean Smith (879) and Adolph Rupp (876).

But he sounds tired. "I may retire pretty soon," he says. "Maybe the end of the season.

"Maybe I'll go to the beach, do some fishing, and travel ... yeah, travel," he says.

The 70-year-old native of Norfolk, Va., deserves a rest.

After becoming head coach at the University of Maryland in 1969, Driesell compiled a 348-159 (.686) overall record, two regular-season conference titles and one ACC Tournament crown in 17 seasons. Eight times his Maryland teams were ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament; three times they played in the National Invitation Tournament, where they were champions in 1971-72.

Driesell's great personal commitment to the game, however, was not enough to overcome the fallout following the death of one of his best players.

About five months after Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose on June 19, 1986, Driesell was asked to step down from his job as head coach. He had signed a 10-year contract the year before.

"They wanted me to leave," Driesell says. But he said he doesn't believe he was asked to step down because of Bias' death. "I think they were just tired of me, because I had already been there 17 years," he says.

The university's chancellor at the time, John B. Slaughter, announced Driesell's forced resignation. "We have come to a point ... when it is in the best interests of the campus to have a change in leadership in our basketball program," he said.

Driesell was offered and took a job as assistant athletic director. He held it for two years. "I wasn't happy about it at all," he says in retrospect. "No, not at all."

He went on to be named head coach at James Madison University in Virginia, where he coached from 1988-97. He led the James Madison Dukes to a 159-111 (.588) overall record, while winning the conference regular-season title five times and the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament title once.

In his time at Maryland, Driesell coached basketball greats Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Buck Williams, John Lucas, Albert King and others.

Driesell says he owes his success to his wife of 50 years, Joyce Gunter, his four kids, and his eight grandchildren. 

"She's my boss," Driesell says of his wife. "I can't do anything without her."

Copyright 2002 University of Maryland College of Journalism
Graphics by Nicole M. Richardson

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