Midnight Madness, the idea that Lefty Driesell dreamed up to promote his rising men’s basketball program at the University of Maryland celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend, not just in College Park, but as the way that almost every school officially opens the season. Fans stream into arenas every October like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano.
The major anniversary got me thinking about Driesell and his legacy.
Over the last four years, not one Division I men’s coach has been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Ma. Meanwhile, 14 NBA/ABA players, three women’s college coaches, two NBA coaches, two NBA owners, two women’s players, two contributors, two international players, a Harlem Globetrotter, a high school coach and a Division II coach have been elected.
That’s 30 Hall of Famers and not a single men’s Division I coach since North Carolina’s Roy Williams was inducted in 2007. Not so coincidentally, that was the year after the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame was established in Kansas City. Driesell was part of that shrine’s second class.
It’s almost as if the long-established Hall is punishing college coaches because they can be elected to the newer Hall and that’s making Driesell seem second-class.
Truthfully, I wasn’t even really aware that there was a separate college basketball shrine until I got to wondering why Driesell wasn’t in the true Hall.
After all, Driesell is eighth all-time among Division I coaches with 786 victories. Six of the seven men ahead of him – including active coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun – are enshrined. The exception is fellow retiree Eddie Sutton, who won 804 games.
Such contemporaries as Lou Carnesecca, Pete Carril, John Chaney, Denny Crum, Marv Harshman, Don Haskins, Al McGuire, Lute Olson, Fred Taylor, John Thompson and John Wooden are all in the Hall with fewer victories than Driesell, who turned Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State from nowhere programs into NCAA Tournament contenders.
True, the Lefthander never made a Final Four – losing four times in regional finals – let alone won an NCAA championship. But Carril, Chaney and Harshman didn’t reach the Final Four either and Carnesecca never won a title.
“Yeah, it bothers me,” the 79-year-old Driesell said from Virginia Beach, his home since he retired from Georgia State in 2003. “Fifteen years ago, most of the guys getting elected were college coaches. I don’t know what the deal is these days.”
At Maryland, aside from inventing Midnight Madness, Driesell won the 1972 NIT – back when that tournament meant a lot — and had arguably the nation’s second-best team in 1974 when conference runner-ups weren’t allowed in the NCAAs, a rule that was immediately changed after the ridiculous absence of those Terps of Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas from the tournament that was won by ACC foe N.C. State. But the coach suspects that his sad exit from College Park is what’s still keeping him out of the Hall.
“I hope it’s not because of Len Bias,” said Driesell, referring to the June 1986 cocaine overdose of his last Terps star which led to his ouster four months later after a superb 17-year run. “The grand jury said I had nothing to do with his death. My players’ graduation rate was higher than the rest of the university’s. Eighty four percent of my players who stayed four years graduated.”
Driesell, who was more of a recruiter – the man signed Moses Malone, Albert King and McMillen when each was the nation’s top prospect — and a showman – his entrances at Cole Field House with arms thrust high in a V for Victory salute were a sight to behold — than a strategist, had his faults, but if Carril, Chaney and Harshman are Hall of Fame coaches, so is the Lefthander.
The folks in Springfield should rectify this wrong and give Driesell the best 80th birthday present next year: put him in the real Hall, where he belongs.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.