In Memory

Charles "Lefty" Driesell1931-2024Class of 2018


The son of a jeweler, he was always a diamond in the rough. But in places where basketball was once an afterthought, he became the gold standard. Full of Southern charm and downhome informality, but highly driven to prove anyone who underestimated him wrong, Charles Driesell turned around the basketball fortunes of Davidson College, the University of Maryland, James Madison University, and Georgia State University. He was the first coach to win at least 100 games at four different institutions, and he is still the only coach in college sports ever to include two Rhodes scholars and a future graduate of Harvard Law School on his roster.
Charles “Lefty” Driesell passed away on February 17, 2024. He was 92. Driesell coached basketball for nearly 50 years. His understanding of building a program extended far beyond the basketball court, from the marketing department to the alumni association, all the way up to the chancellor’s office. He disarmed those around him with his humor, his one-liners delivered as if Rodney Dangerfield was patrolling the sidelines rather than one of the all-time greats in coaching.
John Doleva, President & CEO of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, recalled Driesell’s basketball acumen as well as his understanding of life outside of the game:
“Lefty’s body of work in the ACC against the likes of UNC, NC State, and Duke was remarkable,” Doleva remarked. “Building Maryland into his self-proclaimed ‘UCLA of the East’ was going to take more than great coaching. Lefty understood that recruiting, marketing, and convincing student-athletes that he was going to improve their situations on and off the court was what was going to make the difference between being a solid coach or a legend. And Lefty is a legend, no doubt about it.”
Born on Christmas Day, 1931, Charles “Lefty” Driesell helped bridge early basketball to today’s modern game. A former center at Duke University, Lefty understood players as well as anyone. He developed a coaching style all his own, earning his stripes in high school basketball before taking the job at Davidson College, where he turned the perennial underachieving Wildcats into a contender within four seasons. Davidson won eight Southern Conference championships under Driesell with three trips to the NCAA Tournament. Davidson was also ranked as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. The Wildcats also made back-to-back runs to the Elite Eight in 1968 and 1969.
At Maryland, Driesell again entered into a situation where rebuilding and under-dogging would dominate the headlines. Lefty enjoyed his greatest success at the then-ACC school, as well as his greatest sorrow. By Year Three, the Terrapins were ranked as high as No. 5 in the AP poll. Then, in a five-year span, Lefty won 119 games against only 28 losses, keeping the Terps near the top of the polls and stoking fear in the minds of Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans. Maryland earned Lefty two more trips to the Elite Eight, one National Invitation Tournament title in 1972 when the NIT really mattered, and two ACC championships. He was also named ACC Coach of the Year two times, in 1975 and 1980.
Driesell left Maryland in 1986, his future uncertain, his character unshaken. He landed at James Madison University, where he led the Dukes to five consecutive Colonial Athletic Association championships, one tournament title, and one NCAA Tournament appearance. Again, Lefty was named Coach of the Year two times in the Colonial. Driesell finished his coaching career at Georgia State University, breathing life into a once dormant program for a fourth and final time.
Charles “Lefty” Driesell was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the Class of 2018.