“Uh, Lefty, he’s the head of the selection committee,” I told him.
“Hell, if we don’t get in, it’ll be the biggest ripoff since the Louisiana Purchase,” he growled.
Bias led the Terps to victory the next day – and after beating the Tar Heels again in the ACC tournament, to the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the second round to UNLV. Three months later, Bias was dead from a cocaine overdose and Driesell never coached another game at Maryland.
To this day, Driesell and others believe that Bias’ death and Driesell’s own unceremonious departure has kept the only Division I coach to lead four schools to at least 100 victories out of the Naismith Hall of Fame.
I have stayed in touch with Lefty over the ensuing decades, from the two years in exile he spent as an assistant athletic director at Maryland (“I’m in charge of sitting on my butt,’” he said sadly) to his revival at James Madison and finally to his last coaching stop at Georgia State. In his fourth year at the little Atlanta school, he took the team to the NCAA tournament.
With the ACC tournament that year in Atlanta, I stopped by the Georgia State gym to do a story. (Little did I know that Driesell’s team would upset Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and play Maryland next.) Driesell saw me and scowled, “Why should I talk to you? You’re John Slaughter’s boy,” he said, referring to the former Maryland president who ousted him.
Then, of course, he talked to me for over an hour.
I have talked with Driesell a number of times since he retired 10 games into the 2002-03 season, most recently a few months ago when Turgeon was in the hunt for the Harrison twins and Lefty regaled me for over an hour after recruiting Moses Malone and Tom McMillen and Albert King when he had hoped to turn Maryland into the “UCLA of the East.”
A few years, Lefty tried to get me to push his son Chuck, now the coach at The Citadel, for the job at Towson before Pat Kennedy went there. “I could be like an unofficial assistant and help him recruit,” Lefty said. When Chuck joined Gary Williams’ staff as an assistant, it gave Lefty a reason to come back to Maryland and enjoy what he helped build.
Which is why I am happy that Driesell will be back again Saturday, and that a sculpture honoring him will find its way to Comcast Center in April. The public bickering between Driesell and Williams over the court-naming last year was something that didn’t need to happen for either of them. I am looking forward to seeing a new generation of Maryland fans cheer the now 81-year-old Driesell one last time.
That, I think, will be the final deposit in my own Lefty memory bank.
It’s pretty filled already.