After 786 wins, Lefty hangs is up

Published: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 1:16 a.m.


On the map

  • Lefty Driesell, who resigned on Friday, rejuvenated his already legendary career by establishing a winning tradition at Georgia State. He ends his overall career with 786 wins, 394 losses and .666 winning percentage.

  • ATLANTA - In his familiar, downhome drawl, Lefty Driesell gave a simple reason for retiring after four decades as one of the nation's most successful college basketball coaches: He's tired.
    Driesell, who turned 71 on Christmas, stepped down Friday from Georgia State, finishing with 786 victories - fifth-most on the Division I list and third among active coaches. His teams played in the NCAA tournament 13 times.
    He hadn't been feeling well lately, and he told his wife it was time to step down.
    "I woke up New Year's Day and I told Joyce, 'I've worked 49 years, and most people retire after 25 years. I'm just tired and I've got this bad cold and I'm just going to retire,"' Driesell said. "I'm looking forward to not having a job. I can get up when I want to and do what I want to."
    Driesell, who also coached at Davidson, Maryland and James Madison, is the only coach to win at least 100 games at four schools, and is one of three to take that many schools to the NCAA tournament.
    "When I come back in my next life, I want to get a Duke job or a North Carolina or a UCLA," Driesell said with a laugh. "I've never taken over a program that's been in really good shape. I like building a program."
    Despite his record, Driesell never took a team to the Final Four, and he will be probably be best remembered as the coach at Maryland when All-America Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.
    He said he hasn't ruled out coaching again, but for now he wants to spend time with Joyce at his beach home in Virginia.
    "Look at Bill Parcells. He said he'd never do it again, but the money was right," Driesell said of the man who returned to the NFL this week as coach of the Dallas Cowboys. "For the right money, I might do something."
    The man known as the Ol' Left-hander - his given name is Charles - grew up in the Norfolk area and graduated from Duke with dean's list honors after leading the Blue Devils to a Top Ten ranking as a senior in 1954. He also earned a master's degree from William & Mary.
    Driesell was one of 14 finalists last year for the Basketball Hall of Fame. His overall record of 786-394 gives him a .666 winning percentage. His longest stint was the 17 years he spent at Maryland from 1969-86.
    Asked who was the best player he coached, Driesell cited Bias, who died shortly after being drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics in 1986.
    "Len Bias was a great player," he said. "That's sort of when the Celtics went down."
    Driesell was forced out of Maryland after Bias' death. An investigation found academic problems in the basketball program and drug use among athletes. There also were accusations that Driesell hindered the police inquiry into Bias' death, although a grand jury took no action.

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