So, there goes the last of the Lefties. There used to be a bunch of them, most prominently in baseball, but now Lefty is out of fashion everywhere you look. Do you know a Lefty? It's probably become physically incorrect. Fatso, Red and Pee Wee have also disappeared. But Charles G. Driesell is always Lefty. Even Joyce calls him Lefty. In 1975 she got a nice $100 flower arrangement when Lefty Frizzell, the country singer, died and someone got their Lefties mixed up.
Only once did Lefty try to get rid of the moniker, in 1986, when he suddenly decided that Lefty wasn't dignified enough. But nobody paid any attention. That was only the second-dumbest tiling he has ever done. The first was when he arrived at Maryland and declared that the Terps were going to become "the UCLA of the East." He may as well have pasted a KICK ME sign on his bottom.
Maryland would invariably come up second-best in the ACC, and in those halcyon days of purity only the league champs made the NCAAs. It always seemed to be one late basket, one fluke upset that did in the Terps. Four times in his career Driesell's teams got to the regional finals, but he could never make the Final Four. So the critics said Lefty could recruit but he couldn't coach. The fact is, though, he never had a single player who went on to star in the NBA.
Of course, one of them might have. But Len Bias died of a drug overdose in 1986. That was in June, months after his senior season at Maryland had ended, and there had never been any evidence that Bias had used drugs. Driesell got caught up in the fallout, and the university took his coaching portfolio away. Lefty, who felt he had been made a scapegoat, had nine years left on his contract. "They gave me an office, everything, kept payin' me. It was like I was head of the chemistry department or something. I never should've left."
But Lefty is forever a coach, and after two years James Madison lured him to take over its moribund program. Then, last spring, after Maryland had finally won its first NCAA championship, Gary Williams, the coach, opened a letter and read these words: "Now you have made Maryland the UCLA of the East." It was signed "Lefty."
Driesell was raised a Presbyterian, and one of his daughters is a Presbyterian minister, but he has often worshiped with other denominations. "I go to a Methodist church now," he says. "I just go wherever there's a good preacher, where you really get fed." And that, after a fashion, is how Lefty was himself. He was an itinerant preacher-coach, and if he never won a championship, still, his players and fans were never left hungry. That's about it.
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