Driesell still keeps tabs on Maryland

- In 1969, Maryland athletic director Jim Kehoe sought to lure an ambitious Davidson basketball coach named Lefty Driesell to College Park for big money - $14,000 a year.

"It was a five-year contract," Driesell recalled Friday. "I was making 12 [thousand dollars] at Davidson. He told me I'd be the highest-paid coach in the ACC. He said, 'We've got Vince Lombardi coaching [the Washington Redskins] in the winter and Ted Williams coaching the Senators.' He said, 'If you come, we'll have the big three.' " Driesell couldn't resist Kehoe's pitch.

The death of Kehoe, 91, Sunday in a Southern Maryland hospice left Driesell - whose Terps won 348 games in his 18 seasons - saddened but also in a reflective mood. In a 50-minute interview, Driesell, 78, who plans to attend tonight's game between Maryland (12-5, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) and North Carolina State (13-6, 2-3), offered thoughts on Kehoe, the current Terps team, the late Len Bias and proposals to expand the NCAA tournament field from the current 65 teams.

Driesell habitually referred to his boss as "Coach Kehoe." He meant it as a compliment. Before becoming athletic director, Kehoe - a World War II Army veteran whose hallmark was a buzz cut - coached a Maryland track team that won 48 Southern Conference and ACC titles.

"Coach Kehoe was just a great guy to work for, and his wife, Barbara, was his MVP," Driesell said in his familiar drawl. "Back then, most athletic directors were old coaches. Today, they are businessmen."

Maryland coach Gary Williams, who will coach his 1,000th game tonight, said of Kehoe: "He was an old-school guy. He had a big dream for this place, that we could be a national powerhouse in basketball and that we could be a national powerhouse in football."

Trying to fulfill Kehoe's vision was hard work. Driesell said the seating at Maryland's former home court, Cole Field House, needed adjusting. "The court was like sitting out in the middle of nowhere," Driesell said. "I said, 'Coach Kehoe, we've got to put down some seats around the court to get a little home-court advantage.' "

Kehoe relented, but only after Driesell agreed that basketball coaches and managers would assemble the seating themselves before games.

"We'd get anybody we could grab to help," Driesell said.

Driesell, whose son Chuck is a Maryland assistant coach, lives in Virginia Beach, Va., and attends several games a year.

Driesell left Maryland in 1986 after the cocaine-induced death of Bias, a star player, and subsequent tension between coaches and administrators over proposed reforms designed to ensure athletes' academic success.

Driesell, who said he cried after watching a recent ESPN documentary on Bias, said he remains convinced that the cocaine that killed Bias represented the player's only drug transgression. "He didn't know what he was doing," Driesell said.

Driesell said he favors expanding the NCAA tournament because a larger field might dissuade major-conference teams from scheduling easy nonconference games. "It would make people schedule better games because they wouldn't be so worried about getting 20 wins" to qualify for the tournament, he said.

Driesell said he believes the Terps can take advantage this season of the ACC not being as strong as in years past. "The only thing that worries me is their rebounding. I always liked playing big guys. [Freshman] Jordan Williams is the only big guy," Driesell said.

Notes: Forward Dino Gregory conceded he was rusty after returning from a suspension Dec. 12 for violating team rules. Since coming back, he has reached double figures in points once (against UNC-Greensboro). But he had six points, seven rebounds and four blocks in Maryland's 106-55 victory over Longwood on Tuesday night. "I think I'm almost ready," he said. "It takes awhile to get there. It was really tough, but I'm playing basketball again, which I love to do." ... N.C. State has never beaten Maryland under coach Sidney Lowe. The Terps have won five straight by an average of 13 points. The Wolfpack's last outing was an 88-74 home win over Duke on Wednesday night. N.C. State shot 58.2 percent from the field.