Lefty Driesell, legendary coach who built up Maryland, dies at 92

Lefty Driesell, head coach of Maryland from 1969 to '86, has died at 92 years old. (File photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Lefty Driesell, head coach of Maryland from 1969 to '86, has died at 92 years old. (File photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) (Focus On Sport via Getty Images)

Lefty Driesell, the legendary college basketball coach who built Maryland into a top program, has died at the age of 92.

"Lefty Driesell was a transcendent figure in college basketball and the man who put Maryland basketball on the map," said Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans. "A Hall of Famer, 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. He led Maryland to the NIT Championship, eight NCAA Tournaments, multiple ACC Championships and a consistent Top-10 ranking during his tenure, producing tons of NBA players. We are saddened to hear of his passing and send our condolences to his entire family and community of friends. His memory will be forever etched in Maryland basketball history."

Driesell began his collegiate coaching career at Davidson, and he led the Wildcats to five Southern Conference regular-season championships and three NCAA tournament appearances.

In 1969, Driesell was hired by Maryland, and over 17 seasons, he built the program into one that brought home an NIT title (1972), two ACC regular-season titles, three Sweet 16 appearances and a trip to the Elite Eight.

During Driesell's tenure with the Terrapins, he helped develop star players such as Len Bias, Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Buck Williams and John Lucas, among many others.

One of Driesell's lasting legacies in college basketball is starting the tradition of "Midnight Madness," the annual opening of public practices, which has turned into a big-time event at schools.

When the tradition began, there was little madness.

From a 2014 story in Sports Illustrated:

Did you know Midnight Madness started with a midnight run?

It’s true. Happened on Oct. 15, 1971. Byrd Stadium, University of Maryland, College Park. At three minutes after midnight (to make sure they were not starting too early in violation of NCAA rules), the members of the school’s basketball team began a mandatory one-mile run on the track. The stadium lights were off, so the only illumination came from the headlights of a few cars parked at one end of the stadium. The workout was not publicized, but some 800 students had gathered to watch. Word of mouth had spread, apparently.

Driesell's time in College Park came to an end in 1986 after 348 wins, which is second only to Gary Williams (461) in school history. He left Maryland months after Bias' death and returned to coaching two years later at James Madison.

Over nine years with James Madison, Driesell added 159 more wins to his total and led the Dukes to five straight Colonial Athletic Association titles, four NIT appearances and one NCAA tournament.

Driesell's final coaching stop was at Georgia State, where he won four Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season titles and one tournament championship. He retired in 2003 as the fourth-winningest NCAA Division I men’s basketball coach. He is the only coach to win at least 100 games with four different schools.

“Lefty was the ultimate program builder. He did it at four schools,” said McMillen, the former NBA player who later became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, via the Baltimore Sun. “He and [the late North Carolina coach] Dean Smith were a lot alike. Both were intensely driven and both were big thinkers. Lefty took a sleepy program and put it on the map. He helped create an aura for Maryland.”

Driesell is a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame (2007) and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2018).