Oh, you can call him Coach Driesell. Or you can call him Mr. Driesell.
Or you can even call him Charles G. Driesell.
But not Lefty.
Say it ain't so, 'Hander.
There are surprises in life, such as finding a parking space three steps from the bank on a rainy day or the mechanic saying it was his fault the car sounds like a popcorn machine and he'd be glad to make everything right for free. There are tremors, which include such possibilities as America going broke and the Redskins not making the playoffs. Then there are events that cause you to rise right out of your socks in amazement and yell: "AAAaaaaah."
Few five-paragraph stories in the history of newspapers have caused quite so much stir as Maryland's basketball coach trashing Lefty. "Disrespectful," he called it, having said: "I'm 53 and I don't like to be called by a nickname."
I almost always go along with whatever anyone chooses to be called. When Richie Allen all of a sudden wanted to be known as Dick, I said fine. I've even become comfortable with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And if the president and I should bump into each other at a Capitals game and he insists on being called Ron, I'll try to get it right at the next state dinner.
But excuse me, Lef . . . er, Coach Driesell, this is not going to be an easy transition.
Doesn't your wife even call you Lefty?
The pause on the other end of the phone lasted long enough for a Terrapins point guard to maneuver past midcourt against Carolina's press. Almost whispering, Coach Driesell admitted yesterday, "Yeah. I think she does."
He added: "It's no big deal either way. I don't expect people to stop calling me Lefty. They can call me whatever they want to . . . it was one of my wild ideas one day."
He has had a few in his time. Such as the ad he placed in area papers coaxing several high school hotshots to attend Maryland. Such as the time he changed the light bulbs in the tunnel leading from the visitor's dressing room in Cole Field House before a game with Carolina, hoping the glare would cause the Tar Heels to momentarily misfire.
Truth be known, this latest wild idea has been hopping through his mind for several years. Always in the past his publicity man, Jack Zane, has squashed it. Quite properly, Zane has reminded Coach Driesell that there is only one Lefty celebrated worldwide in basketball and he is it. Or it is he.
The story making the rounds in the ACC yesterday has Zane saying: "People open the paper in Peru and see 'Lefty', they know it's you; they see 'Charles' and they think you're the king of England."
Precious few in any profession ever are famous enough to be known immediately by a single name or phrase. Playing password for a moment, you say "Dean" and I reply "Smith"; you say "Wizard of Westwood" and I reply "John Wooden." When the feisty Knight at Indiana also decided he wanted a more dignified image, I was willing to consider going along with Bob -- until he sailed that chair across the floor last season. Sorry. He's still Bobby.
You say "Charles" and I might say:
Or I might say "DeGaulle."
Or even "Lorenzo."
I don't say "Driesell."
And never will.
So what's in a name? What'll we call him.
No, the NFL coach in Seattle has that. As does the governor of Virginia. Besides, there already is one Chuck in the Driesell family.
"I'm going to call him Sir," said the Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, "out of respect for his being a Duke graduate and also so he'll be nice to me this season."
It's a little-known fact that the Boston College coach, Gary Williams, writes left-handed. So, with this marvelous nickname loose, how about it? Mention Lefty and you get into any prospect's living room in the nation. Williams declined.
"I think that once you get past 50," he said, "you should be able to drop the 'y' in any name. Like Tommy. Or Jimmy. Or" -- he chuckled -- "Kenny. That means we ought to call Lefty Left."
It would be unthinkable for the Miami Dolphins' coach to be called Donny Shula. Or for Shakespeare to be called Billy. Or for Dick Butkus to be called Richie. Or for Ed McMahon to say: "Heeeeere's John." Still, some little boys' nicknames happen to carry over into little boys' games.
Wherever this Ruth fellow hangs out these days, does anyone call him George? Didn't a couple of Reds, Grange and Auerbach, invent pro football and pro basketball? Lloyd Free got his christian name legally changed to World B. Pretty soon we'll be referring to the managerial matchup in the National League playoffs as Thomas Charles Lasorda vs. Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog.
Wonder how long it'll take the coach whose desk is upstairs from the basketball office to suggest that Bobby be purged from the Maryland football press guide.
This is what Coach Driesell had in mind all along; not that Lefty be stricken from use, the way the Soviets once did with Stalin, but that he be referred to in Maryland publications and introduced at public functions in a classier way.
Trouble is, by the time his memo reached the publicity office the basketball press guide had been printed. By my quick count, "Lefty" appears 22 times.
If he wants Coach Driesell, it'll be Coach Driesell here, although I would much prefer his middle name, Grice. But that might get double-dribbled into Gricy -- and that sounds a whole lot like George Burns' dizzy partner, Gracie Allen.
Probably, the Duke students will have the final laugh on this folly. The gauge on his mental fuel tank might be pointed below empty this season. Methinks Coach Driesell ought to think about the fuss being generated and what it means.
Coach, Lefty fits. Like a comfortable sneaker. You've made the nickname unique because you are. You aren't distant Dean. Or boiling Bobby. You're open and unpretentious, a character good for sport. Anyone who has won 502 games over 25 years with no hint of scandal is a blessing to a profession crying for credibility.
If you're pouting, don't. Get your mind back in gear and your body on J.R. Reid's front porch, he being the singular up-coming front-court prospect in the country this season. You're the Classic Coke of college basketball. Nobody with any taste will buy the new stuff.