Lefty Driesell, Basketball Coach Who Put Maryland on the Map, Dies at 92


Lefty Driesell, the Hall of Fame coach who built nationally prominent basketball teams at the University of Maryland in the 1970s, and who at his retirement in 2003 was the nation’s fourth-winningest N.C.A.A. Division I men’s coach, died on Saturday at his home in Virginia Beach. He was 92.

His death was announced by the university.

Driesell (pronounced drih-ZELL) was the first coach to win more than 100 games at each of four major college programs. Over five decades, his teams won a total of 786 games.

He coached at Maryland from 1969 until October 1986, posting a 348-159 overall record in College Park. His Terps reached eight N.C.A.A. postseason tournaments, won the 1972 National Invitation Tournament championship and captured an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship in 1984. They finished high in The Associated Press’s national college basketball rankings of the early 1970s.

He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.

Across Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State, Driesell had an overall record of 786-394. He coached James Madison to four consecutive appearances in the N.I.T. and led the team to the N.C.A.A. national tournament in 1994.

He closed out his coaching career at Georgia State, where he was head coach from 1997 to 2003. He led the team to a huge upset of Wisconsin in the opening round of the 2001 N.C.A.A. tournament.

His coaching victory total is in the top 20 of all time among N.C.A.A. Division I coaches and 23rd overall at all levels of N.C.A.A. basketball.

But for all his coaching success at Maryland, Driesell’s record was not without controversy. In 1983, a female student at the university accused him of making intimidating phone calls to her after she had accused one of his players, Herman Veal, of sexual misconduct, which resulted in Veal being declared ineligible to play the rest of the season. The student said Driesell had told her that her “name would be dragged through the mud” if she did not recant her statement.

Driesell issued a statement saying: “At no time in this matter did I ever intend to harass or intimidate or mistreat anyone, and I don’t believe I did. I do realize some of my comments made in the heat of the moment were not appropriate, and if my call to the young woman upset her, I apologize.” He was reprimanded but faced no additional disciplinary action, according to reporting by The New York Times.

Just a few years later, in October 1986, Driesell was forced to resign after the death of his former star player Len Bias from a cocaine overdose in his college dorm. An investigation found that Bias, who had been drafted by the Boston Celtics, was 21 credits short of graduating despite having attended Maryland for four years, exhausting his athletic eligibility.

Questions were raised over whether Driesell and the school administration had properly monitored the conduct and academic standing of Maryland’s basketball players.

“I make this announcement with mixed emotions because I have loved every one of my 17 years as head coach at Maryland,” Driesell said at a news conference announcing his resignation. “But it is obvious that the administration wants to make a coaching change, and I do not want to coach if I am not wanted.” He accepted a position as an assistant athletic director at Maryland and remained there until 1988.

Charles Grice Driesell was born on Christmas Day 1931 in Norfolk, Va. His father, Frank, a jeweler, had emigrated from Germany. He was a basketball star at Granby High School in Norfolk, then coached basketball there and in Newport News, Va.

A left-handed 6-foot-5 forward and center (he became known as Lefty in the fourth grade), he received an athletic scholarship to play basketball at Duke University. After graduating in 1954, he had hoped to play in the N.B.A., but no team would sign him.

Driesell was credited with generating the idea for college basketball’s first “Midnight Madness” in 1971. At Maryland, that has called for basketball players to hold a one-mile run at the track in front of the campus stadium just after the stroke of midnight on the first day of practice for the coming season.

Driesell’s survivors include his daughters, Pamela Driesell Anderson, Patricia Driesell and Carolyn Driesell; his son, Chuck, who played for his father in the early 1980s and became an assistant to him at James Madison and later head coach at the Citadel; and 11 grandchildren. His wife, Joyce (Gunter) Driesell, died in 2021.

When Driesell was approaching his 86th birthday, he reminisced with the sportswriter Dave Kindred about the day in 1969 when Maryland was trying to persuade him to become its basketball coach. Ted Williams was managing the Washington Senators of baseball’s American League, and Vince Lombardi was coaching the National Football League’s Washington team.

“They told me the summers belonged to Ted Williams, the falls belonged to Vince Lombardi, and the winters would be Lefty Driesell’s,” he recalled. “That sounded pretty darn good.”

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