Lefty Driesell moved through the restaurant with the casual stride of someone familiar with the turf, pausing for a wave here, a hello there and several, "How ya been doins'," to friends he hadn't seen for a while.
It was the first day of summer and Driesell, the 51-year-old Maryland basketball coach, was just as happy to have the stormy springtime behind him.
For Driesell, the trouble started on the first Saturday in March when he called a female student who had accused one of his players, Herman Veal, of attempting to force sexual attentions on her. As a result of the woman's complaint and the findings of a student judicial panel, Veal lost his athletic eligibility for Maryland's final game of the season and subsequent postseason competition. Driesell's three phone calls to the woman, which she said were an attempt to intimidate her into dropping her complaint against Veal, created an uproar on campus.
"A lot of it was exaggerated, though," Driesell says. "The Diamondback (the student newspaper that called for his resignation) blew a lot of that stuff out of proportion. The day the women's groups were demonstrating against me there were more people out there for me than there were against me.
"But," he adds quickly, "I ain't talking about that, okay? Every time I say something about it, it just stirs things up again and that's the last thing I want."
He has been reprimanded by the school, and has apologized to the woman. Driesell now says he does not want to talk about the incident.
"Ed Williams (Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams) told me when people ask me about it, just say, 'No comment, no comment, no comment,' " Driesell says, popping a piece of shrimp into his mouth. "There's a part of me that would like to tell the whole story 'cause then I think people might see it differently. But he's a brilliant lawyer and I'm gonna keep listening to what he told me. It's over. I'm just gonna try and act like it never happened."
But Driesell knows as well as anyone that he can no more act like it never happened than grow the hair back on top of his head. He knows he walked to the edge of the precipice, peered over it and pulled back just in time.
The Veal incident came at a time when Driesell should have been taking bows for one of his best coaching jobs in 14 years at Maryland. A young Maryland team that looked positively awful early in the season won 20 games, including victories over North Carolina, UCLA, Notre Dame and eventual NCAA champion N.C. State twice.
With everyone back from that team, which lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Houston, and with two highly touted recruits, Driesell has a team next year that he thinks, "is good enough to win the national championship."
Already, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith is picking Maryland as the conference favorite.
"I hope he tells everybody to pick us No. 1 'cause that's where we're gonna be," Driesell says, the old bluster flaring at the mention of his longtime rival. "I'm definitely fired up about this year. People are going to expect us to be good and that's a challenge. Dean says we're gonna be first, that's great, that's what I want people to say."
Driesell knows there will be some residue left from the Veal incident when practice begins in October. Yet, he insists, no one has mentioned it to him on the recruiting trail, no one except reporters asks him about it now and he doesn't expect it to be an issue during the season.
Here, on his home turf in a College Park restaurant, what he says rings true. People stop at the table throughout the lunch to wish him luck, ask about the season, or just to shake hands and say hello. If they think Driesell is a bad guy, there is no evidence of it.
Driesell's annual summer camp is as busy as ever. The only evidence that something embarrassing has happened is his unwillingness to talk about the subject. In 28 years of coaching, he has always spoken out.
Last season he called the ACC supervisor of officials a liar, then apologized. On several occasions he labeled his team "awful" and "sorry." He ridiculed Smith for poor-mouthing his own team and he put on a show at the University of Virginia that will be remembered for years, giving Ralph Sampson the choke sign, shaking his fists at the fans and, in the end, almost stealing a game his team should have had no chance of winning.
Five years ago, he thought about quitting. "The year we were 15-13 (1978) I thought maybe I was getting too old for this, that I'd lost my enthusiasm. I decided to be calm on the bench and that turned out to be a terrible idea.
"I always thought I'd be out of coaching by the time I was 40. Now I'm 51 and I'm still in it. As long as it's a challenge I'll stay in it and each year I find a different way to be challenged. People say we're gonna be bad, that's a challenge. Now people say we're gonna be good, that's a challenge.
"Sometimes, though, I think I'd like to get out and just do nothing. Maybe go lie on the beach and do nothing. Be a beach bum."
Did that thought ever cross his mind when people were crying for his head this spring?
"No, absolutely not. Not for a second."
He was on his way back to campus now, with the air-conditioner turned up full blast.
"I'll say just one thing about that whole incident. There's a lot people don't know about it. If I didn't think Ed Williams was a great lawyer, I'd talk about it. But he said to me, 'You called me, now you listen to what I say.' So, I have. But five years from now or maybe when I'm retired, I'll talk about it. And when I do, I think people will look at me differently than they do now."