For almost 20 season Charles “Lefty” Driesell was Maryland basketball. On Saturday, Maryland honored the legendary coach in a halftime appearance at mid-court.
Lefty made the Terps nationally relevant during the 1970s and 80s by great recruiting, solid play and legendary storytelling. Upon taking the Maryland job, Driesell announced that he intended to build the UCLA of the east. Though Driesell’s Terps never approached the incredible success of the Bruins, Driesell made an impact that few across the college basketball world will ever imitate.
“Lefty is a legendary coach and we are happy to recognize him on this special day,” Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. “It will be exciting for our longtime fans to celebrate Lefty’s return to the university.”
Driesell’s players speak very fondly of the former coach.
“Lefty put Maryland basketball on the map. Where Maryland basketball is today started with Lefty,” Bob Bodell, a Maryland player in the 1970s, said.
A true innovator with an eye towards promotion, Driesell invented what has become Midnight Madness and was always a fan favorite.
“Lefty is an innovator who made significant contributions to the game of college basketball,” former Terps All-American Tom McMillen said. “He is a coaching icon, not only at University of Maryland but throughout college basketball.”
With a slight southern drawl and a big smile, Lefty charmed Terps fans and foes alike.
“Coach is the most significant mentor in basketball and outside of basketball from whom I had the privilege to learn,” Maryland legend Len Elmore said. “Coach laid a foundation for my professional sports career. His focus on sports and self-improvement are words that have lasted way beyond my playing days.”
In 17 season at Maryland, Driesell won almost 70 percent of his games, including an ACC Tournament championship and two regular season ACC titles. Driesell coached four All-Americans at Maryland and had seven players drafted to the NBA.
For Terps fan, what they loved most were Driesell’s battles against the teams along Tobacco Road, including the historic 1974 ACC Championship game against N.C. State. Maryland lost that game in overtime, a result that would eventually lead the NCAA to reconstruct the college basketball tournament.
NC State and Maryland were two of the best teams in the country, though at that time only conference champions made the tournament. By Maryland’s exclusion of the 1974 tournament, the NCAA realized it needed to expand and begin to invite at-large teams.
“Coach was very colorful, had a great sense of humor, and was unpretentious,” former Terp Buck Williams said. “He used humor in practice to keep us focused.”
More than decade after his departure from College Park, Driesell was not seen around the Terps program. He went to other coaching stops in smaller conferences like James Madison and Georgia State – taking both schools to the NCAA Tournament – though the death of former star Len Bias tainted his career at Maryland.
Though Bias’ death will forever be linked to Driesell, Maryland’s coach at the time, it appears that time has healed most wounds. Lefty’s influence at Maryland, and throughout college hoops, is one of great importance, and his honors are well deserved.
In April, the school will unveil a bronze bas-relief in the Comcast Center. While the floor of the Terps home court bears the name of Gary Williams, Maryland basketball would not be where it is today without Driesell.
“Lefty did a great job establishing a tradition for Maryland basketball,” Terps coach Mark Turgeon said. “I know our alumni, former players and our team is excited to have Lefty back on campus.”