John Thompson, the Georgetown basketball coach, was a relaxed man yesterday, sitting in the bleachers at McDonough Arena, smoking a cigar, relieved over his first NCAA tournament victory (against Iona Sunday) as a player or a coach.
"I've participated on championship teams at every level but one," Thompson said. "We won an NIT championship (at Providence), two NBA titles (at Boston), my high school (Carroll) was ranked No. 1 nationally, my junior high team won a championship, and the Olympic gold medal, I was part of that (as an assistant coach)."
There also are some side issues as his Hoyas prepare for Friday night's East Regional semifinal against Maryland at Philadelphia -- his alleged feud with Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, his emergence as the most successful black coach in college basketball.
Both subjects, Thompson says, are irrelevant. He says he always has respected Driesell as the man who revived college basketball in the Washington area.
"I'm not in a position where I have to prove I can do something because I'm black," he added.
The so-called feud arose over an incident during Georgetown's 83-71 victory over the Terrapins in December when Thompson reportedly cursed Driesell during the game, after which the Maryland coach refused to shake hands. They have not talked since.
"The relationship between Maryland and Georgetown is good, a healthy, competitive thing," Thompson said. "I fuss with people in my office, I fuss with people in my family. People have a tendency to express the feeling they have about others through you.
"Because I was rude in the first game against the University of Maryland, there are those people who would like to think that there is some form of hate out of proportion to the competitive aspect of it. It is a very heated, competitive rivalry. But it's not out of proportion, to the proportion I've heard it described.
"I've contributed to that myself by my actions in the last game, which I publicly said that I was wrong. Even in the church now, you don't have to give public penance. Lefty was not in error. That was a one-way street. John Thompson was wrong at that time."
Thompson was at midcourt talking to one of the referees when Driesell came up and starting mimicking Thompson, according to the Hoya coach.
"I took offense to it and I over-reacted," Thompson said. "It was a judgment, a judgment I was wrong in the heat of battle. There's no more that can be said about it; there's no more that has to be said. I'm competitive and he's competitive.
"People have a tendency when something like that happens to express through you what they want to say themselves. Ever since I have been here I have always felt that it's natural because Lefty and I have expressed a certain amount of success for people to get he and I after one another.
"I've said it before the incident and I say it not. The excitement that is in this area now as it relates to athletics was initiated by Lefty Driesell."
But Thompson wants the December incident laid to rest.
"Why should I constantly keep redigging?" Thompson said. "We're talking about sports. To talk anymore about that is to take away from sports; it's sensatinalism."
Of Driesell, whom he beat for the first time in 1978, Thompson says:
"The man represents success. Anytime a person represents success, you're always going to get an accumulation of people analyzing and dissecting and criticizing what you've done and how you've done it. I feel he is a competitive person and he is a competitive person and there will be clashes. I don't believe those clashes go beyond the basketball court.
"It has not been convenient for me to talk to Lefty and I assume it has not been convenient for him to talk to me. I'm certain when all this settles down and is over, I'll have an opportunity to talk to him . . . I don't think that's necessary right now."
In fact, Thompson -- who is called by U.S. Olympic Coach Dave Gavitt "one of the 10 best coaches in the country, I don't care if he's white, black, red, or yellow" -- defends Driesell's reputation as a coach.
"It just amazes me the amount of people that get credit for being good coaches without ever having done anything or proving anything," Thompson said. "It also amazes me the amount of people who have achieved things who are called poor coaches.
"Some of the things Lefty said he had to say.They were extremely necessary to be said, because this was a flat town basketball-wise. He's had to take the responsibility of saying those things. Because he said some of those things, the rest of us never had to say them to create the interest.
"And I don't want to enter into any 'praising Lefty contest' because I'm going to try as hard as I possible can to beat his team when we go out on the floor. But I don't want it to be misconstrued by an emotional outbreak we had in a competitive situation.
"I'm not in here to praise Lefty, either. But it's a fact."