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Lefty Driesell, ‘Man Who Put Maryland Basketball on the Map,’ Dies

Colorful Coach’s Victories Place Him Among All-Time NCAA Leaders

By Maryland Athletics Staff

Driesell huddles with players during game

Charles "Lefty" Driesell huddles with players in a January 1971 game against South Carolina. Driesell racked up a 348-159 record with the Terps, and his 786 career victories still rank 15th all-time among all NCAA Division I coaches.

Photo courtesy of University Archives

Basketball Hall of Fame coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, who helped establish the University of Maryland as a collegiate powerhouse in the sport, died Saturday at home in Virginia Beach, Va., at the age of 92.

One of the most legendary and colorful coaches in college basketball, Driesell led the Terps from 1969 to 1986, posting a 348-159 overall record, second in program history only to fellow Hall of Famer Gary Williams. His 786 career victories rank 15th all-time among all NCAA Division I coaches.

"Lefty Driesell was a transcendent figure in college basketball and the man who put Maryland basketball on the map," said Damon Evans, the Barry P. Gossett Director of Athletics. "Lefty was an innovator, a man who was ahead of his time, from his coaching on the court to his marketing off the court. From starting Midnight Madness to nationally televised games with sold-out Cole Field House crowds, Lefty did it all.”

Driesell boldly and famously predicted upon his arrival in 1969, when the team hadn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament in 11 years, that Maryland had the potential to be the “UCLA of the East.” The Terps soon began their climb: Maryland reached eight NCAA Tournaments (1973, 1975, 1980, 1981 and 1983-86), won the 1972 NIT Championship title and the 1984 ACC Tournament Championship, and posted a pair of ACC regular season titles. Additionally, Maryland reached the ACC title game six times under Driesell. The Terps were ranked as high as No. 2 nationally by the Associated Press from 1972-76.

His 786 victories still rank 15th all-time among all NCAA Division I coaches and 23rd overall at all levels of NCAA basketball. He stands among only 10 coaches to have coached 40 seasons or more. Only Driesell and Cliff Ellis led four different Division I schools to 100 or more wins during their careers.

"Not just in Cole Field House, but especially in the DMV, he raised the level of college basketball in the area. He did it on a national level, something that was very difficult to do,” Williams said. “Lefty will always be remembered as one of the legends of the game. His personality, the teams he coached, all of those things created an aura around Lefty that very few coaches ever had.”

Driesell, who came to Maryland from Davidson College (1960-69), went on to head coaching roles at James Madison (1988-96) and Georgia State (1997-03). He held an overall coach record of 786-394 and was named Coach of the Year nine times throughout four different conferences including twice in the ACC with Maryland (1975, 1980).

Driesell was honored in 2018 with induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. That came after his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. He was also a member of the Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Washington D.C. Sports Hall of Fame, the Southern Conference Hall of Fame, and the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded the NCAA Award of Valor for helping save lives from a structure fire in 1973, and in 2010, the Lefty Driesell Award for best defensive player in NCAA Division I basketball was created.

He is also credited with generating the idea for the nation's first Midnight Madness, when Driesell held a one-mile run at the track in front of 1,000 fans around then-Byrd Stadium at 12:03 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1971, the first possible day to begin practice. The tradition has largely been inherited by almost every college basketball team in the country,

A bronze bas-relief of Driesell was unveiled at the Xfinity Center in 2013, and a banner honoring Driesell's accomplishments was raised there in 2017.

“Maryland gave my father a platform to do what he does best, and that is build basketball programs and create excitement, and he’s really great at it,” Chuck Driesell '85, who played under his father from 1981-85, told the crowd at Xfinity Center during an “Ode to Lefty” held Jan. 21.

On Saturday evening, Maryland men's basketball fans joined in a moment of silence before a home game vs. No, 14 Illinois while throwing up the iconic "V" to honor Driesell. The Terps also wore their throwback uniforms that commemorated the teams he coached in the 1980s in front of a sellout crowd. The Terps nearly upset the Fighting Illini before losing, 85-80.

Current Maryland men's basketball coach Kevin Willard expressed the team’s condolences to Driesell’s family.

"Words cannot express all that Coach Driesell embodied and the impact he made on the game,” Willard said. “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."

For those who wish to honor Coach Driesell's legacy to Maryland basketball, a fund was previously established to provide financial assistance to deserving student-athletes. The Charles "Lefty" Driesell Endowed Scholarship honors his legacy in perpetuity by providing a meaningful annual scholarship in his name.



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