Chuck Driesell will embrace The Citadel's challenging environment

Chuck Driesell on coaching at a military college:
Chuck Driesell on coaching at a military college: "I think you have to sell it. . . . It's a positive."
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 15, 2010

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The only man ever to win 100 games at four Division I programs stepped off the elevator on the second floor of McAlister Field House on Wednesday. The man hadn't been to The Citadel in 43 years, not since he was the coach at Davidson, and he wasn't quite sure where the men's basketball offices were located. A secretary directed him and his wife down the hallway and to the left.

"You know who that is, don't you?" an athletics department official asked once the couple was out of sight.

More than four decades removed from his last appearance here, Lefty Driesell still needed no introduction. It's Lefty's son with whom folks in and around South Carolina's military college are just starting to become familiar. On April 27, The Citadel named Chuck Driesell its men's basketball coach, providing the former Maryland assistant his opportunity to run a Division I program.

Those familiar with The Citadel athletics said the most daunting challenge Chuck Driesell will face is persuading quality players to commit to four years of a military environment. But sitting in a still-barren office just more than two weeks after he was hired, Driesell said he plans to confront that factor the same way he has dealt with perpetually being known as Lefty's son -- by embracing it wholeheartedly.

"I think you have to sell it," Driesell said of The Citadel's military component. "I don't think it's something you paint as a negative, because it's not. It's a positive. Here, they get a leadership degree in addition to their regular degree. And everyone needs leaders."

While on campus, the school's cadets live by a schedule in which nearly every hour of every day is accounted for by their superiors. They must join an ROTC of one of the military branches. They must wake up early in the morning for physical training. They must turn out the lights early at night.

Upon graduation, cadets may choose to accept a military commission. This year, 35 percent did just that, according to Col. Jeff Perez, the school's vice president for external affairs.

After Ed Conroy left last month to take the head coaching job at Tulane, calls from hopeful candidates began to flood Les Robinson's home in nearby Sullivan's Island. The former Citadel coach and athletic director immediately was drawn to an aspirant he had recruited to the school 29 years earlier. The other callers pried for inside information on competing applicants or their own chances for landing the gig.

"But Chuck was strictly asking me about what it is like coaching there, which is the most important question," said Robinson, who led The Citadel from 1974 to 1985. "Now, if I was coaching at Wofford or Georgia Southern, that wouldn't be that important a question. It wouldn't be a lot different coaching at Appalachian State or Georgia Southern. But it's different coaching at The Citadel."

Robinson said he "oversold" the military aspect while recruiting players to avoid near-immediate attrition once they arrived on campus in the fall. In his first 10 years at the helm, Robinson noted, not one player transferred out because the military discipline was too intense.

If Driesell is to have a similar track record, he'll need to rely on the "breadth of experience" The Citadel Athletic Director Larry Leckonby cited as one of the main reasons why Driesell stood out during the hiring process.

Driesell played for his father at Maryland from 1981 to 1985. By then, Lefty Driesell had built Maryland into a perennial contender in the ACC.

"Everywhere I went it was always, 'Oh, that's Lefty's son,' but it never bothered me," Chuck Driesell said. "In fact, in a lot of ways it drove me. It drove me to really work hard at being a really good basketball player. I didn't want anyone to think: 'Oh, that's Lefty's son. He's only on the team because of his dad.' They're going to look at me, so I wanted them to see that I was good."

Observers continued to monitor Lefty's son as he entered the coaching ranks. He led the Naval Academy Preparatory School squad for three years before joining his father's staff at James Madison. In 1994, JMU advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years on an inbounds play Chuck designed.

The Dukes trailed Old Dominion by two with time running out. Lefty wanted to go for the tie with a play the team had run all season. Chuck -- and the players -- lobbied for a play called "Picket Fence" in which a series of screens opened up a three-point attempt. Kent Culuko drained the three-pointer at the buzzer, and the Dukes were Colonial Athletic Association champions.

By 2000, Chuck was the head coach at Division III Marymount and Lefty was in charge at Georgia State. That summer, father and son discussed offensive strategies at the family's beach house in Bethany, Del., and Lefty decided to use Chuck's high-low motion offense the following season. Georgia State went 29-5 in 2000-01 and upset Wisconsin to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Since then, Chuck has coached at Bishop Ireton High and served four years as an assistant under Gary Williams at Maryland. Now he takes over a program that went 16-16 last season and has never earned an NCAA tournament bid. Chuck said that will be The Citadel's annual goal, one he believes is attainable. The man whose career casts a considerable shadow over Chuck concurs.

"He knows I've had a lot of success, and I think he can do the same thing," Lefty Driesell said. "He's ready. In fact, I think he's been ready for a long time."

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