Lefty Driesell put on his glasses ("I better read this to make sure I get it right"), read his short statement and then walked out of the press conference without answering questions, even the shrill entreaty from the CBS reporter with the White House press pass on a chain around her neck.
The sporting press sat in bemused slience. But the White House press pass shouted at Driesell, "Who's going to coach the team next year? Who is going to coach the team . . . "
Driesell, turning from the question, allowed himself a Mona Lisa smile of contentment because, in no surprise, the University of Maryland chancellor yesterday said Lefty has been a bad boy and will sit in a corner the rest of the afternoon without any cookies. And the chancellor said Lefty will behave himself next time or . . .
Just as Driesell told us little reading his statement, Chancellor John B. Slaughter told us little with his. The chancellor also refused to answer questions, even though the 15 television crews and 25 reporters had good ones, such as . . .
What, Mr. Slaughter, is a "formal reprimand"? One more reprimand and you're fired?
What are the "certain instructions" for Driesell's future conduct?
Do you, Mr. Slaughter, believe Herman Veal's athletic eligibility was at risk for a period of two months without Driesell knowing it?
This when Veal's attorney works in a firm run by a friend of the coach? This when Veal was an integral part of a team making a late-season run for the NCAA tournament, with as much as $550,000 at stake?
Slaughter announced his formal reprimand of Driesell, along with those certain instructions, after saying it would be inappropriate to talk about all the findings by a faculty committee that took information from 32 people.
Curiously, Slaughter chose to reveal "a few facts which are relevant and which have not previously been reported."
Here, Slaughter said Driesell "had not been kept fully informed" as to Veal's risk of ineligibility. The coach, according to Slaughter, thought the affair was over in December when the student judicial board ordered Veal out of university housing.
Fact is, that punishment was immediately questioned by the university official, Gary Pavela, who oversees the judicial proceedings. On Jan. 7, the punishment was increased to ineligibility. That decision was appealed. The appeal was turned down and, on March 4, at the final appeal level, Veal was declared ineligible.
This seems a long process during which you would imagine that Veal's lawyer, at the urging of his boss, Driesell's buddy, would think to say, "Oh, yeah. We better tell Lefty that Herman's in hot water and it's getting hotter."
Or you would think Veal would come to Driesell--the coach is proud of his relationships with his players--and confide, "Coach, you've heard the latest on my problem, haven't you?"
Nothing like that happened, if we believe Slaughter's account that Driesell knew nothing about Veal's ineligibility. "Thus," the chancellor said, "it was unanticipated by (Driesell) and a surprise to him."
No sale here.
Saying Driesell knew nothing about it is like saying he goes to Chapel Hill not knowing who coaches there.
This excuse, flimsy as it is, can have been designed only to provide the extenuating circumstance of "surprise" that might explain Driesell's behavior after the March 4 announcement of Veal's ineligibility. Slaughter for the first time acknowledged that Driesell did call to tell the woman the inevitable publicity would hurt Veal and her. Driesell told the committee he didn't intend to intimidate the woman.
Driesell also said he knew the woman and often spoke to her in passing. "For these reasons," Slaughter said, "Coach Driesell felt the call was not inappropriate."
Slaughter so carefully built this foundation that listeners thought he was about to absolve Driesell. But in the next breath, without giving any clue to his thought processes, the chancellor said of the coach, " . . . I have found that his conduct in contacting (the woman) and others to be unacceptable and contrary to my expectations for university personnel."
Whoa. Did the chancellor say "others"?
Who were these "others"? How far did Driesell's full-court press extend? In an attempt to change a university decision, did the coach make calls even to the chancellor's office?
The chancellor didn't want to hear these questions because (guessing) they might lead to an examination of his subjective judgment that Driesell's misdeeds didn't add up to a firing offense. "I do not wish to review my decision in detail in public. The facts and issues are complicated."
In fact, the issue of Driesell's involvement was not complicated.
Whatever extenuating circumstances anyone dreams up, it remains true that the coach applied pressure to change a university decision made once and affirmed twice at appeal. This seems to have gone over the coach's head. He made no reference to it in his statement. Of that pressure, he said only, " . . . some of my comments made in the heat of the moment were not appropriate."
The issue was not the temperature of Driesell's oratory. Nor was it his "surprise" at Veal's ineligibility. The issue was his attempted subversion of the university's judicial process.
More foolish than felonious, Driesell didn't deserve to be fired. He likely does his job better than most folks at the university. He caused embarrassment with his awkward bully-boy's fumbling around in the judicial process. But the chancellor decided it was nothing more sinister than Lefty being Lefty, an act that for 14 years has sold tickets at Cole Field House, and that now is under orders to stay out of other people's business.
You could say that Driesell now is fully informed.