"Maybe I haven't recruited as hard the last couple of years as in the past. I don't like to do it as much as I used to. Sometimes I just get tired. Maybe I haven't been as persistent as I once was. That might be why we've slipped a little." -- Lefty Driesell
In his spacious office in Cole Field House, Charles Grice Driesell has many mementos of his 19 years as a head basketball coach in college. There are trophies from tournaments, plaques from nationally ranked teams, pictures from major victories.
All of these are marks of a successful coach, one who has built a reputation as a maniacial worker while reaching the top of his profession.
Stting behind his desk, sipping on a soft drink, Driesell looks almost the same today as he did 11 years and 199 coaching victories ago when he first arrived at Maryland.
In those 11 years, he has built a top basketball program. He has pulled numerous recruifiting coups. From 1973 through 1976, his teams were consistently ranked in the nation's top 10. But in the last three seasons, the program has slipped. There have been no 20-win seasons, no NCAA bids and two years ago, his team had 15-13 record, the worst since the McMillen era began in College Park.
Last season, longtime Lefty watchers noticed a change in Driesell at age 46. Gone were the tantrums, the stomp, the intimidating of officials, the waving of the arms.
Had Lefty turned soft? Mellowed?
"No, nothing like that. I'm not mellow, hell no. I still hate to lose. I ain't never gotten used to that. To me, losing's like failure. You set out to win and lose, well, you've failed. I can't stand it.
"I was quieter on the bench last year on purpose, for a specific reason. I thought I might do a better job coaching that way, that if I was calmer I could handle the game situations a little better, maybe.
"It was an experiment. We had a very young team and I thought it might help if I was calmer than before. Look, I'll do anything to win. If I think kicking a chair or intimidating officals wll help us, I'll do it again."
Will it be Lefty the diplomat or Lefty the wildman on the bench this season?
"I don't know. Haven't really decided that yet. You know, last year when I was calm I didn't really enjoy the games as much. I didn't get as emotionally involved with them. I wasn't as excited when we won or as down when we lost. I don't know what I'll do this year. I'll have to see what works best."
While Driesell insists that his serenity on the bench was strictly a tactical move, others who have known him for years admit to noticing changes, albeit subtle ones, in Driesell.
"Basically, I don't think his personality has really changed over the years," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland, who played and coached under Driesell at ydavidson. "But the last couple of years, in meetings where we've talked about rcruiting, he's adopted a policy of saying things like, 'god darn, it's just not right to be chasing 17- and 18-year olds around the country all the time the way we do.
"I think he might have found himself saying that this just isn't the way things should be. Often when that happens, you find yourself doing it the right way, the way you think it should be and unfortunately you find yourself at a tremendous disadvantage very quickly."
The possibility of Driesell losing his zest for recruiting is not something to be taken lightly. Even though it irks him, much of his reputation has been built on his masterful abilities as a recruiter, the ability to go the extra mile that is often necessary to get the Tom McMillens, Moses Malones and Albert Kings.
When he first arrived at Davidson at age 28, it was as a recruiter that Driesell drew national attention, He built his reputation by going anywhere, anytime, to recruit a player. He slept in his car, worked 24 hours a day and built tiny Davidson into one of the country's top teams. When he arrived at Maryland in 1969, he did much the same thing in turning the Terrapins around.
But now, at 47, Driesell admits that while his desire to win is an intense as ever, his desire to pay the price has diminished.
"I don't like to go out on the road and recruit like I used to," he said. "I guess I haven't been as persistent recently as I was in the past. We probably lost a couple of kids the last few years because I didn't go after them the way I should have."
Vince Taylor is a case in point. The 6-foot-5 streak of a guard from Lexington, Ky., began coming to Driesell's summer camp in seventh grade. Driesell was certain when Taylor was a high school senior two years ago that he would choose Maryland.
"I didn't even go to see one of his games as a senior," Driesell said glumly. "I just lost him. It never should have happened. In the past, it never would have." Taylor will start for Duke this season as a sophomore.
"In the old days, I used to draw up a list of 75 guys and go after them and hope we'd get three or four. The last few years, we only went after eight or 10. When you do that, if you miss, a couple, all of a sudden you've had a bad recruiting year. I don't like that. This year, we're going to recruit 75 again."
The voice is somehow softer than in the past, the tones less strident. The drawl is still the same, the sentences are still punctuated with the "ain'ts" and "you knows" that have become a Driesell trademark. But when he is asked if his goal for Maryland is still a national championship, Driesell answers, "Yes, I'd like to win the national championship." There was a time when the answer would have been, "Yes, we're going to win the national championship."
There are some who speculate that Driesell is playing out the string at Maryland, that he will desert next season to rejoin his old friend, former Maryland assistant athletic director Russ Potts, now AD at Southern Methodist. Driesell, of course, says there's nothing to it, just rumors.
"I'm not interested in SMU," he insisted. "Everybody keeps saying that just because Russ and I are friends. I talked to Russ on the phone a couplecouple months ago and I was telling him it would be terrible if he were ever my boss because it would probably ruin our friendship.
"If he made me an offer, some kind of great offer, I guess I'd have to think about it. But I can't see myself leaving Maryland for another college coaching job. If I got an offer to go into the pros, well, that would be different. I haven't done that.
"You know I built two programs up (Maryland and Davidson) and I'm not sure I'd want to go through doing it again. I'm not saying I couldn't do it because I could. But I'm not sure I'd want to do that kind of work, deal with that sort of thing again."
Again, just the slightest hint of reticence, the implication that maybe basketball is only 99.9 percent of his existence instead of 100 percent -- "I could do it but I'm not sure I was to."
Still confident, still sure of himself but not so certain the monumental efforts of the past should be a part of the future.
"I think a lot of coaches reach a certain stage where they still want to work hard but maybe find more to like than the same old routine," said Maryland Athletic Director Carl James, who has know Driesell since the two were undergraduates at Duke in the early '50s. "Look at men like Ray Meyer and John Wooden. They changed as they got older; they matured. But that didn't mean they stopped winning or wanting to win. Maybe Lefty is reaching that stage. Or starting to reach it."
Driesell isn't exactly ready for the old coaches' home. Much of the old bluster remains. He is still apt to say things like: "John Bilney (senior forward) is a hustler. He works hard. If he could ever learn to make a layup or a free throw, he could help us. But he can't make a layup."
Or: "I'm not a good loser. Now Digger Phelps (Notre Dame coach), he's a good loser. In fact, he's a better loser than he is a winner. When he wins, he gets all cocky and says things. When he loses, he's very humble and complimentary."
Or: "Most coaches are on ego trips. They like to think something they did, something they changed, some substitution then made won a ball game.
"I've always said the team that's better fundamentally wins the games. The team that dribbles better, shoots better, rebounds better, wins. That's what John Wooden always said. I'm like him. I'm not a bench coach. I'm a practice coach. It doesn't matter what kind of fancy offenses or defenses you use, the best players win the games."
The "best players" reference is one Driesell frequently brings up when the subject of his nemesis, North Carolina's Dean Smith, comes up. It has always bothered him that Smith has been given almost sole credit for Carolins's dominance of Maryland over the years. Players, not coaches, win for the Tar Heels, according to Driesell.
"Dean's won because he's had the best players; that's all there is to it. I get tired of hearing how this offense or that substitution won all these games for Carolina. Phil Ford won games. Mitch Kupchak and Tim LaGarde won games. Bobby Jones won games."
But even on the subject of Smith, Driesell has mellowed somewhat. "I have a lot of respect for Dean," he said. "The reason we're pictured as arch-rivals is because just about every coach in this league is pictured as Dean's big rival because he's been so dominant."
Driesell's style, keeping his offense simple and his defense man-to-man most of the time has often been criticized and pointed to as the reason for his problems against the multiple offense and defense of Smith.
"I've had enough good teams that I could have played around with all of that," he said. "But I still think the fundamentals are the bottom line. The rest don't matter."
Which is why for 19 years as a college coach. Driesell has stuck to much the same offense, a double post, with two men in the middle. This season, he will change that, using a single postman in order to give quick forwards Albert King and Ernest Graham more room to manipulate. And, after toying with the idea of going with the slower 6-foot-10 Taylor Baldwin at center, he has decided to go with the quicker Buck Williams in the pivot, giving him a small, but extremely fast front line.
"We've used other offenses at times in the past, like the passing game we used three years ago. People said we were 15-13 that year because of the new offense. But that wasn't it. We were just sorry on defense that year."
Which, Driesell promises, will not be the case this year. The first three weeks of practice were devoted largely to improving the defense.
The Terps open the regular season Nov. 30 against Maryland-Eastern Shore. That game will mark the start of Driesell's 20th year as a college head coach, 25th as a head coach including his high school years. $"Have I changed over the years?" he asked rhetorically when the question was posed. "I don't know.I guess I've changed some. Everybody does over the years.
"When I got here, I thought I was a pretty good coach, real good in fact.
I still think I am. It irks me a little that people say I'm a good recruiter and a bad coach. I could come across like a master strategist if I want to. I could change defenses all the time and look fancy.
"But I've won doing things this way for a long time. Coaching is winning and losing -- that's the bottom line. I love winning and I hate losing. That part of me will never change."