Lefty Returns

The Ol’ Lefthander still has it.

 

The man could always coach, and he was as responsible as anyone for Maryland’s rise to national prominence in basketball. But as much as anything else, Lefty Driesell was candid and humorous, often in equal doses.

 

So it comes as little surprise that the 85-year-old former Terrapins coach is looking forward to his Feb. 11 pregame ceremony at XFINITY Center … assuming he can get through it.

 

“I’m honored to have it up there,” Driesell says. “I’m excited to have it. I think it’ll be fun.”

 

Driesell won 786 games over his 41-year coaching career, which included stops at Davidson, James Madison and Georgia State. But he won his greatest renown at Maryland, earning 348 victories and taking the Terps to a pair of Elite Eights (1973 and 1975), an Atlantic Coast Conference title (1984) and an National Invitation Tournament championship (1972).

 

Along the way, he attracted the likes of Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Buck Williams, Albert King and Len Bias to his program,. All of them are honored with banners hanging from the rafters in College Park.

 

Now it’s Driesell’s turn, just before the Terps’ 4 p.m. tip against Ohio State. Maryland entered the month with a 19-2 record and is on track for its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

 

“I love Maryland and I love Mark Turgeon,” Driesell says. “I think he’s doing a great job and he’s a great guy. I watch all of their games that are on TV, which is just about all of them.”

Lefty Driesell in his first Maryland men's basketball media guide in 1969.

LEFTY BY THE NUMBERS

.666 - Overall career winning percentage

.686 - Career winning percentage at Maryland

1 - First victory at Maryland came in 1969 versus Buffalo (97-77)

1 - ACC Tournament Championship

2 - Regular season ACC titles

4 - Number of Academic All-Americans coached at Maryland

6 - Career conference tournament championships

6 - Number of national All-Americans coached at Maryland

7 - Players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft

13 - Career NCAA tournament appearances

16 - Career regular season conference titles

24 - Number of players selected in the NBA draft

27 - Players to earn All-ACC honors under Driesell

28 - Career victories over North Carolina and Duke

41 - Number of years coaching in collegiate basketball

122 - All-time ACC conference wins

348 - Overall wins at Maryland

786 - Number of career victories

1969 - First year as the head coach of Maryland’s basketball team

1971 - Created the tradition of Midnight Madness

Turgeon is well-acquainted with Driesell, having competed against him during his first head coaching job at Jacksonville State. Driesell, then at Georgia State, ruefully recalls how Turgeon engineered a 20-point comeback.

 

It impressed the veteran coach, who made it a point to reach out to Turgeon when he took over at Maryland in 2011.

 

“When he got the job, I called and congratulated him and said ‘You probably don’t know this, but you just got one of the best jobs in the country,’” Driesell recalls. “’You have a brand new field house. Maryland is a great school, there’s nice people there and the students are great.’”

 

Turgeon, now in his sixth season, is particularly grateful for all that Driesell did to establish Maryland as a prominent power.

 

“I am so happy for Lefty for this great and well-deserved honor," Turgeon said. "Lefty has meant so much to the University of Maryland and college basketball. Not only is he a tremendous coach, but he is an innovator who helped take the game of basketball to the next level. I always enjoy when Lefty comes back to College Park and this will be an exciting day for our program and fans.”

 

Driesell spends much of his time now in Virginia Beach, though he maintains a second home in Bethany Beach, Del. He has four children and 11 grandchildren, and the Driesell family coaching tree extends into both generations.

 

Son Chuck, a former Maryland player and assistant, is now the basketball coach at the Maret School in Washington. One grandson is the director of basketball operations at Mississippi State, another is the video coordinator at Troy and a third is the head coach at one of the largest high schools in the Atlanta area. Overall, 14 of his former players and assistants are now either high school head coaches or college head coaches or assistants.

 

While he doesn’t travel as much, he still pays plenty of attention to the sport 15 years after coaching his final game.

 

“The game has changed, but it’s still all I do,” Driesell says. “I see who is playing and say ‘OK, I have to finish eating dinner by 7 o’clock.’ On Sundays, I’ll say ‘I have to get back from church by 1 o’clock.’”

Driesell had a hand in the sport’s evolution throughout his career. Perhaps most famously, he was the first coach to create what has become Midnight Madness, a celebration of the start of practice each season.

 

One of Driesell’s rules was to have his players run a mile in less than six minutes on the first day of practice. But because it messed up practice, Driesell decided to do it on the track at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 15. Cars were set up in Byrd Stadium to provide lighting and ensure no one cut any corners. The coach remembers about 1,000 curiosity-seekers coming that night.

 

“Mo Howard said ‘Hey, coach, why don’t we have a scrimmage at midnight,’ and I said ‘Yeah, we could do that. We’ll do that next year, maybe,’” Driesell says. “Mo Howard, he was probably trying to get out of running. But the next year, we had a scrimmage and about 8,000 people and after that it was filled. Then everybody started doing it. I should’ve gotten a patent on it.”

 

Driesell also famously made quite the first impression, proclaiming his intent on making Maryland the “UCLA of the East” at his introductory press conference. UCLA was the dominant team in college basketball at the time, but Driesell credits former Terrapin player Jay McMillen for drawing the comparison since both schools were in or near cities and had plenty of students who didn’t live on campus.

 

“I said ‘My goal is to make Maryland the ‘UCLA of the East,’” Driesell recalls. “I got a lot of publicity for it. I think it really helped me get Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and a lot of others to think ‘Maybe they will be that good.’ I have to give Jay McMillen credit, but I did say that.”

Lefty Driesell with Steve Shephard from the cover of the 1976-77 Maryland men's basketball media guide.

Driesell is eager to reconnect with the roughly 35-40 players he said will be in attendance for the banner ceremony. But he’s sure to get attention from countless friends and fans from over the years.

 

That’s an experience that stems not just game days, but other things he did in nearly two decades at Maryland.

 

“I ran my basketball camps for 19 years when I was there,” Driesell says. “I run into people who say ‘Hey, coach, I came to your camp. And I say ‘You’re older than me, you didn’t come to my camp.’”

 

Needless to say, Driesell hasn’t lost his sense of humor. He’s returned to Maryland on occasion during his retirement, including a halftime introduction during a 2013 game against Clemson and then the unveiling of a bas-relief on the Xfinity Center concourse that spring.

 

The banner is just another way to honor the contributions of one of the most pivotal coaches in any sport in Maryland history.

 

“It’s very significant because I spent 19 years --- 17 years coaching and then I was around as an assistant AD for a couple years and then went back to coaching,” Driesell says. “I spent a lot of time there. I have a lot of friends there. When you spend 19 years somewhere, that is a lot of time.”

 

Time that won’t ever be forgotten in the years to come in College Park.

The Ol’ Lefthander still has it.

 

The man could always coach, and he was as responsible as anyone for Maryland’s rise to national prominence in basketball. But as much as anything else, Lefty Driesell was candid and humorous, often in equal doses.

 

So it comes as little surprise that the 85-year-old former Terrapins coach is looking forward to his Feb. 11 pregame ceremony at XFINITY Center … assuming he can get through it.

 

“I’m honored to have it up there,” Driesell says. “I’m excited to have it. I think it’ll be fun.”

 

Driesell won 786 games over his 41-year coaching career, which included stops at Davidson, James Madison and Georgia State. But he won his greatest renown at Maryland, earning 348 victories and taking the Terps to a pair of Elite Eights (1973 and 1975), an Atlantic Coast Conference title (1984) and an National Invitation Tournament championship (1972).

 

Along the way, he attracted the likes of Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Buck Williams, Albert King and Len Bias to his program,. All of them are honored with banners hanging from the rafters in College Park.

 

Now it’s Driesell’s turn, just before the Terps’ 4 p.m. tip against Ohio State. Maryland entered the month with a 19-2 record and is on track for its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

 

“I love Maryland and I love Mark Turgeon,” Driesell says. “I think he’s doing a great job and he’s a great guy. I watch all of their games that are on TV, which is just about all of them.”

Lefty Driesell in his first Maryland men's basketball media guide in 1969.

Turgeon is well-acquainted with Driesell, having competed against him during his first head coaching job at Jacksonville State. Driesell, then at Georgia State, ruefully recalls how Turgeon engineered a 20-point comeback.

 

It impressed the veteran coach, who made it a point to reach out to Turgeon when he took over at Maryland in 2011.

 

“When he got the job, I called and congratulated him and said ‘You probably don’t know this, but you just got one of the best jobs in the country,’” Driesell recalls. “’You have a brand new field house. Maryland is a great school, there’s nice people there and the students are great.’”

 

Turgeon, now in his sixth season, is particularly grateful for all that Driesell did to establish Maryland as a prominent power.

 

“I am so happy for Lefty for this great and well-deserved honor," Turgeon said. "Lefty has meant so much to the University of Maryland and college basketball. Not only is he a tremendous coach, but he is an innovator who helped take the game of basketball to the next level. I always enjoy when Lefty comes back to College Park and this will be an exciting day for our program and fans.”

 

Driesell spends much of his time now in Virginia Beach, though he maintains a second home in Bethany Beach, Del. He has four children and 11 grandchildren, and the Driesell family coaching tree extends into both generations.

 

Son Chuck, a former Maryland player and assistant, is now the basketball coach at the Maret School in Washington. One grandson is the director of basketball operations at Mississippi State, another is the video coordinator at Troy and a third is the head coach at one of the largest high schools in the Atlanta area. Overall, 14 of his former players and assistants are now either high school head coaches or college head coaches or assistants.

 

While he doesn’t travel as much, he still pays plenty of attention to the sport 15 years after coaching his final game.

 

“The game has changed, but it’s still all I do,” Driesell says. “I see who is playing and say ‘OK, I have to finish eating dinner by 7 o’clock.’ On Sundays, I’ll say ‘I have to get back from church by 1 o’clock.’”

Driesell had a hand in the sport’s evolution throughout his career. Perhaps most famously, he was the first coach to create what has become Midnight Madness, a celebration of the start of practice each season.

 

One of Driesell’s rules was to have his players run a mile in less than six minutes on the first day of practice. But because it messed up practice, Driesell decided to do it on the track at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 15. Cars were set up in Byrd Stadium to provide lighting and ensure no one cut any corners. The coach remembers about 1,000 curiosity-seekers coming that night.

 

“Mo Howard said ‘Hey, coach, why don’t we have a scrimmage at midnight,’ and I said ‘Yeah, we could do that. We’ll do that next year, maybe,’” Driesell says. “Mo Howard, he was probably trying to get out of running. But the next year, we had a scrimmage and about 8,000 people and after that it was filled. Then everybody started doing it. I should’ve gotten a patent on it.”

 

Driesell also famously made quite the first impression, proclaiming his intent on making Maryland the “UCLA of the East” at his introductory press conference. UCLA was the dominant team in college basketball at the time, but Driesell credits former Terrapin player Jay McMillen for drawing the comparison since both schools were in or near cities and had plenty of students who didn’t live on campus.

 

“I said ‘My goal is to make Maryland the ‘UCLA of the East,’” Driesell recalls. “I got a lot of publicity for it. I think it really helped me get Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and a lot of others to think ‘Maybe they will be that good.’ I have to give Jay McMillen credit, but I did say that.”

Lefty Driesell with Steve Shephard from the cover of the 1976-77 Maryland men's basketball media guide.

Driesell is eager to reconnect with the roughly 35-40 players he said will be in attendance for the banner ceremony. But he’s sure to get attention from countless friends and fans from over the years.

 

That’s an experience that stems not just game days, but other things he did in nearly two decades at Maryland.

 

“I ran my basketball camps for 19 years when I was there,” Driesell says. “I run into people who say ‘Hey, coach, I came to your camp. And I say ‘You’re older than me, you didn’t come to my camp.’”

 

Needless to say, Driesell hasn’t lost his sense of humor. He’s returned to Maryland on occasion during his retirement, including a halftime introduction during a 2013 game against Clemson and then the unveiling of a bas-relief on the Xfinity Center concourse that spring.

 

The banner is just another way to honor the contributions of one of the most pivotal coaches in any sport in Maryland history.

 

“It’s very significant because I spent 19 years --- 17 years coaching and then I was around as an assistant AD for a couple years and then went back to coaching,” Driesell says. “I spent a lot of time there. I have a lot of friends there. When you spend 19 years somewhere, that is a lot of time.”

 

Time that won’t ever be forgotten in the years to come in College Park.