Former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell said yesterday he hoped the acquittal of Brian Tribble on drug charges connected with the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias would help salvage Bias' reputation.
"As far as the trial and Brian Tribble are concerned, I guess justice was served," Driesell said. "He had a trial and the jury said he was innocent, and in the U.S. you go by the trial system.
"I personally thought the trial and his being found innocent sort of helps Len Bias. I've said all along he was one of the finest young men I ever coached. I was proud of Len Bias before this happened, and I'm still proud of him. That hasn't changed."
Driesell, who testified for the prosecution, played a small but key role in the trial that ended late Wednesday night when a jury found Tribble not guilty of four drug charges.
Tribble's attorney, Thomas C. Morrow, maintained he had grounds for a mistrial because the Prince George's County state's attorney's office did not disclose to him the full nature of Driesell's testimony. Driesell testified that players David Gregg and Terry Long had told him Tribble provided the drugs that killed Bias. The judge ordered the jury to disregard that part of Driesell's testimony as hearsay, and scolded the state's attorney's office for "prosecutorial abuse."
Driesell again professed shock yesterday at revelations of Bias' cocaine use from Long and Gregg. He said Bias had received warnings from his parents, James and Lonise, his attorney, Lee Fentress, and Driesell about cocaine use as it became evident that he would receive millions of dollars as an NBA star.
"Obviously, I was shocked he was fooling with drugs because I had talked with him about it, his lawyer had talked to him and his parents had talked to him," Driesell said. "We knew he was going to be worth a couple of million dollars and we were all trying to make sure he didn't go near it."
Driesell also said he was surprised by testimony that Bias had used cocaine on several occasions, not just the night he died. But Driesell maintained he saw no evidence of cocaine use during Bias' senior season, despite the testimony that Bias had used it.
"I was also surprised at the testimony that he had used it seven or eight times," Driesell said. "But in society now a lot of people are using cocaine and it's a problem. In Len's case it cost him his life. But I am positive that he was not an addict or that he used it in games, or anything like that. There was nothing in the trial or in all of this that changes my opinion of Len Bias as a man . . . . He just got messed up in something he shouldn't have. That doesn't mean he was a bad person."
Driesell, who was forced to resign as coach last fall and has been reassigned as an assistant athletic director, said he was relieved that the trial ended, and with it the various investigations that followed Bias' death. They ranged from the grand jury inquiry to Maryland campus task forces on drug use and academic problems among athletes.
"I don't know what else they could do," Driesell said. "They've had juries, grand juries, task forces. I hope it's over. I just think it's disrespectful to Len. I was proud to coach him and know him, and he did a heck of a lot more good than bad.
"He was a Christian who made his mark in this world and then went on. I hope he rests in peace."
Driesell's attitude was echoed in Cole Field House. The acquittal of Tribble comes as the anniversary of Bias' death approaches, and it appears to close the most troubled period in the school's athletic history.
Acting athletic director Charles Sturtz will return to his previous job as an assistant vice chancellor after Friday, and new athletic director Lew Perkins formally will take command.
Sturtz said he considers the chapter closed. "I think in a sense that set of events has been completed," he said. "There are some bits and pieces here and there, but they are relatively minor compared to the other major issues."
Another who expressed relief that the trial had ended was reserve center Phil Nevin, among several team members subpoenaed but who said he asked the state's attorney's office not to call him unless absolutely necessary.
"I called them and said, 'Please don't make me,' " he said.
Nevin also is involved in a controversy with current Coach Bob Wade, who has asked him to transfer elsewhere and told him that if he remains at Maryland, he will not be a member of the active roster. Nevin said that although the trial is over, it will take some time for him to recover from the trauma of the last year.
"Just because the trial is over doesn't mean everything is over," he said. "I think it's going to take a long time before things get back to the way they were. Before things heal."
Nevin, who is enrolled in summer school, said he is considering about 10 universities that have contacted him about playing basketball, and is most interested in Gannon College in Erie, Pa. But he said he will not make a decision until after the summer semester.
"I'm still reserving the possibility of staying here," he said.
Wade declined to comment yesterday.