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Legendary University of Maryland basketball coach leaves College Park fans with good memories.
Courtesy of the University of Maryland

Long-time College Park residents remembered legendary University of Maryland (UMD) basketball coach Lefty Driesell, who died on Feb. 17 at age 92, as a larger-than-life figure who was effective, fun and devoted to his players.

Driesell, head coach at UMD from 1969 to 1986, was one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) winningest coaches.

“Lefty helped put College Park on the map,” Berwyn resident Faith Rodell recalled. “He created a real hometown vibe, bringing the University of Maryland and the residents closer together with a joint sense of community spirit. We were proud of the team, even if we were not students, and had a double burst of pride if we were alumni.”

Driesell was forced to resign as head coach in 1986 after star player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in a campus dorm room two days after the Boston Celtics drafted him for the pros.

Still, hometown fans said they have fond memories of Driesell, who went on to coach at James Madison University and Georgia State before retiring in 2003.

“Being a basketball enthusiast, I was glad to see a coach that could make the game matter and be exciting,” said College Park Woods resident Mike McClellan, a former UMD computer sciences professor. “When we passed by each other, I saw he was a big man and was intensely discussing something, no doubt, basketball.  He was, in fact, bigger than life.”

McClellan said he initially thought Driesell was amusing and a bit goofy.

“That was true, but I came to understand over the years that he was dead serious and dedicated to the game, and a great coach,” McClellan said. “My respect for Lefty grew as I learned that he taught a disciplined game with detailed instruction to be incorporated into each player’s performance.”

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Legendary University of Maryland basketball coach leaves College Park fans with good memories.
Courtesy of the University of Maryland

John Krouse, of Hollywood, said he’ll never forget Driesell’s temper and the Lefty stomp.

“His foot stomping was legendary,” agreed Heidi Biffl, who works at the university and owns a home in Old Town. “He was a good coach, fun to watch and devoted to his players.”

“Lefty was a very emotional coach,” Old Town resident Mike Crossman recalled. “He would win a few games a year that he probably should have lost, but also lost a fair amount of games that he clearly should have won.”

Some UMD fans remembered Driesell for the superstars he recruited.

Robert Thurston, who lives in Lakeland, said he became a fan in 1974 after Driesell recruited Moses Malone, who bypassed college after initially accepting the offer and went pro. Moses went on to play for the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers, among other teams, and became one of the NBA’s greatest players.

“I admired his determination to make it work when most thought he couldn’t make it work,” Thurston said of Driesell.

Dennis Herschbach, anOld Town resident, agreed. 

“Lefty was a great coach and he was good at recruiting excellent players, but he also understood that basketball was entertainment and he was very effective in generating public enthusiasm,” Herschbach said.

Still, some fans soured on the iconic coach after Bias’s death, which came a few years after Driesell was accused of intimidating a female student who accused another player of sexual misconduct.

“He might have done better by [Bias and the accused player] if he had worked harder to correct their negative behaviors rather than enable them,” Biffl said. “I wasn’t surprised or very sad when he left UMD. I know my take is probably not very popular.”

McClellan said the scandals sullied the coach’s reputation.

“I was sorry to see his passion for the game sullied by [allegedly] trying to cover up after the Len Bias disaster,” he said, but noted. “I will remember Lefty Driesell for keeping the game of basketball, and my love of it, alive and well, and bubbling.”

Still, Yarrow resident and former sportscaster Shawn Anderson said fans will remember Driesell fondly.

Anderson, who said he watched a TV tribute to Driesell years after he left the university, said, “I think many people still remembered all the joy he brought to Maryland. So there was a lot of forgiveness in the air, both by the fans … and by Lefty. If there were still hard feelings for what happened after Lenny Bias died, you didn’t feel it that day. … The love and applause that came down from the crowd when he walked on the court at halftime was just so warm, so emotional.”

For Chuck Montrie, of Calvert Hills, Driesell’s passing brought to mind the coach’s catchphrase.  “I remember his tag line,” Montrie said: “‘And I’ll see you at the game.’”