Will the fourth time be the charm for Lefty Driesell?
Two years after failing to secure enough votes for the third time, Driesell was one of 13 finalists named Saturday for induction later this year into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
“It isn’t as much an honor for me as it for my players, and the schools where I coached, all my assistant coaches, the people that hired me,” Driesell, 86, said in a telephone interview Sunday. “It’ll be an honor for them if I get it.”
The former Maryland coach was the only men’s college coach named a finalist this year. Driesell’s 786 wins (against only 394 defeats) in 41 seasons rank him 11th among all Division I coaches.
When he retired from Georgia State in 2003, only three coaches — Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp — had more Division I wins than Driesell.
Driesell took four schools — Davidson, which was a national power in the late 1960; Maryland; James Madison; and Georgia State — to the NCAA tournament.
“He took programs that really were in the doldrums and made them all great,” Tom McMillen said Sunday. “He was a real turnaround specialist. He’s the best turnaround coach ever in college sports.”
During his 17 seasons at Maryland (1969-1985), Driesell was also considered one of the game’s most colorful personalities and has been widely credited with starting Midnight Madness to celebrate the start of basketball preseason practice.
McMillen and another former Maryland star, Len Elmore, have lobbied hard in recent years to get Driesell in through writing Op-Ed pieces, going on social media and talking to those connected to the Hall of Fame.
In recent years, former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr., who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, has lobbied for his former rival as well.
George Raveling, who was one of Driesell’s first assistant coaches at Maryland and was inducted in 2015 as a contributor for his role in helping market Nike, has also championed Driesell’s cause.
At least one college coach has been named every year since 2013, including former Terps coach Gary Williams in 2014. Of the 15 men’s college coaches inducted since 2000, Driesell has more wins than all but four.
Nearly half of those who have been inducted since 2000 have seen their reputations tarnished, including former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, former Nevada-Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who was inducted in 2016, has been recently questioned about keeping players in the program who have been accused of sexual assault, including former star Adreian Payne.
There is also the ongoing FBI investigation into a reported widespread recruiting scandal that cost Pitino his job at Louisville, and is reportedly to include several other high-profile programs and coaches that could be announced after the season.
“There is a risk of putting current coaches in the Hall of Fame,” McMillen said Sunday. “Maybe they’re saying, ‘We need to create some separation.’ Who knows, if this FBI thing goes further, it could even be worse. Maybe that’s influencing their thoughts.”
Driesell, who has always been a very religious person, said: “Everything that’s happened in my life, the Lord made it possible for me. When I lost a game, it’s His will. When I won a game, it was His will.”
Elmore said Sunday that this could be as good a chance as Driesell has had to garner 18 of the 24 votes needed for induction.
“He has the best opportunity now,” Elmore said. “I think he'll be very grateful because it’s a high honor to recognize what he’s done.”
The announcement of this year’s Hall of Fame class will be made March 31 during the Final Four in San Antonio, with induction scheduled in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 7.
If selected, Driesell could be among the oldest inductees ever who was not put in posthumously.
“Let’s hope and pray it does. I won’t be around much longer,” Driesell said with a hearty laugh.