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January 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Saturday, January 4, 2003

by Brian Strong

Charles “Lefty” Driesell spent 40 full seasons as a college head basketball coach. On Friday, in his 41st, the Ol’ Left-Hander figured the time was right to step away.

“I woke up New Year’s Day and I told [my wife] Joyce, I’ve worked 49 years,” said Driesell. “I’m just tired and I’ve got this bad cold and I’m just going to retire…I can get up when I want to and do what I want to do.”

The end of an era, put into simple terms by a man who at first glance might appear to be a simple-minded southerner. Yet, he’s much more than that. Lefty has been quite simply one of the most endearing and intriguing men ever to coach this game. Sometimes, you couldn’t half understand what exactly in tar nation the man was trying to say with that thick-as-molasses southern drawl, but you got the gist.

What everyone understood from start to finish, however, was that the man wanted to win badly. He did it with four different teams, taking each of them – Georgia State, Davidson, Maryland, and James Madison –to the NCAA tournament. He leaves this game with 786 wins, the fifth most in Division I history and a .666 winning percentage. He is also the only coach to lead four different teams to 100 wins.

One of the more legendary testimonies to Lefty’s determination and wit involves a young recruit named Danny Ferry. The blue-chipper, who eventually attended Duke, came to visit Driesell’s University of Maryland as a high school student. At some point during the visit, Ferry was taken up in a helicopter to catch an aerial view of the College Park campus. As the chopper circled over Cole Field House and Ferry peered out of the window, the youngster noticed that something had been written on top of the stadium. There it was, as clear as day: “Danny Ferry Country.” Always wanting to compete, yet always finding a way to make crack a smile with something slightly outrageous.

Funnier, light-hearted moments like that were, of course, contrasted by the controversy of the post-Len Bias days at Maryland in 1986. After Terps all-star and soon-to-be Boston Celtic, Len Bias, died of a cocaine overdose, Lefty’s name was mud. An investigation uncovered academic issues and drug problems amongst the players. The ugliest nuance of that being the charges that the coach somehow held back the inquiry into Bias’ death. Although, those charges were never acted upon, Lefty was forced out as coach.

But the Ol’ Left-Hander did rebound. After a couple years off, he realized that his place was back on the sidelines. And at least part of the public and one athletic administration realized that he belonged back there as well. He headed to James Madison University, leading them to five regular season Colonial Athletic Association titles and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1994. Most importantly, from that point on, he managed to bring his image back to respectability in the basketball community over the last decade or so.

Now, the 71-year old, feeling that it’s time to be done with all of it – the good and the bad – has retired to concentrate on other things.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t coaching,” Lefty once said. “I don’t play golf. I don’t fish…I don’t read a lot unless it’s a basketball book.”

So, time for Lefty to find another hobby. Odds are that we’ll never find another Lefty.

ISU’s Richardson Layin’ Down the Law: Illinois State coach Tom Richardson is taking a new approach to motivating his players. The team has started 1-8, causing several bold moves by the head coach, including stripping the tri-captains of their positions and taping the locker room door shut. So where will they dress?

“Their cars, the bathroom, the boiler room, I don’t know,” said Richardson. “I’m trying to get them so mad at me that they start rallying around each other.”

Miami Opens New Building Today: The Miami Hurricanes will no longer reside in the Miami Arena, as they open the new Convocation Center against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The new home seats 7,000 fans, as opposed to the 15,000-seat Miami Arena, which was a too large for their needs. The Miami athletic department spent $48 million on the new stadium and hopes that it attracts new fans, having finished near the bottom of the Big East in attendance annually.

Today’s Menu:

• No. 19 Xavier at No. 2 Alabama. Watch potential All-American forwards face off: David West and the Musketeers vs. Erwin Dudley and the Tide.

• No. 14 Michigan State at No. 3 Oklahoma. Veteran squads collide.

That’s it for this Saturday. Enjoy!

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