A Loving Goodbye to Former Head Coach “Lefty” Driesell


From WTOP NEWS 7:20 PL. 02/17/2024
authored by Thomas Robinson 

 Charles “Lefty” Driesell, who led both Maryland and James Madison’s basketball programs to regular season and conference titles during his decades as a head coach, has died at the age of 92, JMU’s athletic department said Saturday morning.

He died at his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Driesell came to Maryland in 1969 after leading Davidson to three conference titles in his final four seasons with the Wildcats. During his 17 years as head coach for the Terps, Driesell led the team to an NIT championship, two ACC regular season titles and an ACC Tournament championship.

Damon Evans, director of Maryland Athletics, called Driesell “the man who put Maryland basketball on the map” in a statement released Saturday morning.

We are saddened to hear of his passing and send our condolences to his entire family and community of friends. His memory will be forever etched in Maryland basketball history,” Evans said in the statement.

Current Maryland men’s basketball coach Kevin Wiillard said “words cannot express all that Coach Driesell embodied and the impact he made on the game” in the statement.

“Most importantly, however, was his commitment to his players and the depth of relationships he made with all those around him. Maryland and the college basketball world lost one of its monumental figures today.”

Driesell posted an overall record of 348-159, which is second in program history to only Gary Williams. Under Driesell, Maryland reached eight NCAA Tournaments (1973, 1975, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986).

The program had just one NCAA Tournament appearance before Driesell’s arrival.

Driesell was forced to resign at Maryland in 1986 after superstar player Len Bias overdosed on cocaine in a campus dorm after being drafted by the Boston Celtics.

In 1988, Driesell went to James Madison and, starting in his second season, the Dukes rattled off five consecutive CAA regular season titles. Driesell was the architect of a remarkably successful 1993-94 season for the Dukes, which ended in a CAA Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance.

“Lefty was a larger-than-life figure who made a significant impact wherever he went, particularly at James Madison and our men’s basketball program,” Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said in a news release.

Driesell finished his career with Georgia State, where he led the program to four regular season conference titles, a conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

An example of the success he brought to each program he led — Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to have been named conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences.

He was enshrined into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2018.

Driesell also helped knock down racial barriers in the college game. He made George Raveling the first Black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference by hiring him as an assistant in 1969. Driesell’s effort to recruit Charlie Scott to play at Davidson helped make the future NBA star become the first African American scholarship athlete to attend North Carolina.

Scott initially committed to Davidson before choosing UNC but acknowledged that Driesell paved the way.

“I think if there had never been a Lefty Driesell, there would never have been a Charlie Scott attending North Carolina,” said Scott, who joined the Hall of Fame in 2018 with Driesell. “My commitment to go to Davidson really opened up all the other schools in the recruiting process.”

Race played no factor in Driesell’s effort to recruit the best players.

“He did so many great things in marketing the game and opened up so many doors for many African Americans players and coaches like myself,” said Len Elmore, who played for Driesell at Maryland from 1971-74. “Lefty was a trailblazer and an innovator.”

Driesell is survived by four children. While at Duke, Driesell eloped with his wife Joyce and got married in December 1952. She died in 2021.

The couple’s only son, Chuck, played for the Terrapins under his father from 1981-85 and became an assistant to his father at James Madison. He was hired as the coach at The Citadel in 2010 and was fired after five losing seasons.

While helping his father at James Madison, Chuck Driesell learned the rigors of coaching.

“Dad gave me a lot of responsibility, and we worked hard,” he said. “As a son and as a player, I’m not sure I understood how hard he worked. I figured it out pretty quickly.”

In its statement, Maryland Athletics said anyone who wants to “honor Coach Driesell’s legacy to Maryland basketball” can donate to the Charles “Lefty” Driesell Endowed Scholarship, which offers financial aid to student-athletes.

WTOP’s Kate Corliss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

*Image sourced from AP Photo Elise Amendola

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