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  Driesell Ousted as Maryland Coach

By Sally Jenkins and Mark Asher
Washington Post Staff Writers
October 30, 1986

Citing the need for an overhaul of priorities in the University of Maryland basketball program, Chancellor John B. Slaughter yesterday accepted the forced resignation of Coach Lefty Driesell and reassigned him as an assistant athletic director.

"There needed to be some redirection of our overall athletic program, particularly in relation to basketball," Slaughter said at a news conference. "There needed to be a greater commitment to the development of the young men playing in the program. It is my belief that at this time, in order to make those changes, we would require new leadership."

Driesell, Maryland's coach for the past 17 years, said he was stepping down because "it is obvious that the administration wants to make a coaching change, and I do not want to coach if I am not wanted." He joins Athletic Director Dick Dull as the second top athletic department official to resign and be reassigned in the past month.

No successor to Driesell was named, although Slaughter said he expected to appoint a coach before basketball practice begins Saturday. It is considered likely that top assistant Ron Bradley will be named interim coach.

Slaughter said the major reason he sought Driesell's resignation was that he felt the need for "more successful . . . academic pursuit" by basketball players. "I have not been satisfied for some time with the progress that has been made in that regard," he said.

Slaughter conceded that when Maryland renegotiated a 10-year contract with Driesell last December, "I should have had a great deal more insight into that picture." In the months since then, Driesell's star player, Len Bias, collapsed in his dormitory suite and died of cocaine intoxication, and subsequent revelations of poor academic performance by Bias and other team members created controversy around Driesell's program.

Although Slaughter said Driesell's resignation and Bias' death "are a coupling we cannot avoid," the chancellor said there were other factors.

Slaughter said an internal investigation he ordered this fall "was instrumental" in the decision. A source close to the chancellor said his review of players' academic transcripts also weighed heavily, because Slaughter believed they revealed a pattern of players taking courses to stay eligible rather than to obtain a meaningful degree.

Asked about the 56 percent graduation rate for Driesell's players, Slaughter said: "I'm much more concerned about the quality of education than graduation statistics."

James Mingle, an assistant state attorney general who negotiated the settlement under which Driesell stepped down, said the remaining nine years on Driesell's contract were replaced with a new eight-year deal. If Driesell stays the full eight years, he will receive in excess of $1.1 million in salary and benefits (including $50,000 a year for the next four years for his radio-TV show even if he does not appear, and waiving $20,000 a year in fees for operation of his basketball camp).

Maryland's financial obligation to Driesell would end if he took another job, Slaughter and Mingle said.

Driesell, who has won 524 games and has the second-best winning percentage among active NCAA Division I coaches, spoke for less than two minutes at his news conference, which was held separately from Slaughter's. After reading a three-paragraph statement, Driesell walked off the Cole Field House floor with his wife Joyce and daughters Pam and Carolyn.

Driesell declined to take questions, calling it "a very emotional day for my family and myself." Driesell, whose new duties are primarily in sports promotion but will include advising the athletic director on fund-raising and marketing, said, "I will continue to do my best to serve the University of Maryland."

But sources close to the coach said he expects to be coaching at another university next season.

The chancellor said he made up his mind about a change early this month, a few days after he received the report of a campus task force reviewing academic performance of athletes. That report singled out the basketball program as the one with significant problems.

Slaughter said a Prince George's County grand jury investigation into whether Driesell told an assistant coach to remove evidence of drug use from Bias' suite "was not a major factor in this decision." Driesell was not indicted.

Slaughter said his 1983 reprimand of Driesell in the Herman Veal case did play a part in the decision. Veal was a Maryland player accused by a female student of sexual misconduct. The woman said Driesell attempted to intimidate her into dropping the allegations.

Veal, back on campus to get a degree, said the incident contributed to Driesell's removal as coach. "As mildly as I can say it, my incident here four years ago definitely had an effect on the outcome of this," he said. "They are the powers that be, and this is the shot they called."

Driesell has denied that he attempted to intimidate the woman and maintains that he always has stressed academics over won-lost records. "I am proud of all that the basketball team has accomplished during the last 17 years, both on and off the court," he said.

In reply to questions, Slaughter said he was not making Driesell a scapegoat, nor had he considered resigning himself.

"I take full responsibility for the problems of the athletic program," he said.

Slaughter, whose management style has been criticized by some recently as being too deliberate, said he did not feel there were undue delays in deciding Driesell's fate. Once Slaughter decided he wanted a change, negotiations took about three weeks to complete, according to Mingle.

Mingle said there were three meetings and numerous phone calls between lawyers for the two sides before Tuesday's contract signing at the downtown Washington offices of Driesell's attorney, Edward Bennett Williams. Sources said one of the possibilities discussed would have allowed Driesell to remain as coach of the Terrapins.

Driesell would have settled for three more years coaching, two fewer than his contract called for, according to sources close to Driesell. The university countered by offering to let Driesell coach this season, then re-evaluate his status, sources said.

A source close to Driesell said the coach rejected this option because he felt he would have trouble competing since practice was starting late and the first-semester games had been canceled (reforms ordered by Slaughter to allow players more time to study) and three players were ineligible.

Two weeks ago, Driesell agreed to the concept of reassignment, and the lawyers "fast-tracked" negotiations, according to Mingle.

Slaughter said, "It's been a long ordeal. I don't know that I can characterize {Driesell's resignation} as the end. It's been a time for an immense amount of introspection, as well as an immense amount of external scrutiny of our program . . . I'm confident the University of Maryland athletic program will be in the long run a strong one, and one which is fully in congruence with overall goals of the university."

Staff writer Michael Wilbon contributed to this story.

© 1986 The Washington Post Company

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