Chuck Driesell, 744 NCAA wins shy of dad, embraces coaching Maret
Chuck Driesell looked at his watch. It was Friday morning, and that night, the Maret School, where he has been the coach for the past two seasons, was playing Georgetown Day in the first round of the MidAtlantic Conference tournament. But that wasn’t why he was keeping an eye on the time.
“My first class is at 10:30,” he said, smiling. “I teach P.E., one class with kindergartners and one with third-graders.” He smiled. “I love it.”
Driesell’s path has been long and winding. He now coaches a 24-3 high school boys’ basketball team — but also teaches kindergartners and thirdgraders, coaches middle school teams and is an assistant coach for the high school golf team.
That’s a long way from being a Division I head coach or an assistant at Georgetown or Maryland — jobs Driesell has held in the past. His record in five seasons as the head coach at The Citadel was 42-113, which leaves him just 744 wins shy of his famous father, Lefty.
“My dad taught me a lot,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t figured out how to win like him. At least not yet.”
Still, Driesell, 54, is completely at peace with where he is in his career and his life right now.
“All I can tell you is I wake up every morning really excited to go to work,” he said. “I love what I’m doing and the place where I am. The people I work for are great, and I really enjoy the kids — all the kids, from the kindergartners to the 12th-graders.”
Driesell has seen just about everything there is to see in the game he grew up playing, loving and watching his dad coach so well. In four years as a backup guard at Maryland, his most memorable moment came as a sophomore in Chapel Hill against defending national champion North Carolina, led by Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty.
The Terrapins, led by Adrian Branch and Len Bias, were trailing 72-71 with five seconds left. It was Maryland’s ball at midcourt.
“All of a sudden, Dad says in the huddle, ‘Chuck, you’re in,’ ” Driesell said. “I hadn’t been in the game! I had to get my sweats off — which took a while back then. The play was for Adrian at the top of the key. Except Jordan was standing right there. When we lined up, I was in the corner, and no one was guarding me. Jeff [Adkins] drove towards the lane, and Jordan’s on Adrian. I was open. He had to throw me the ball. I cut to the basket and had a wide-open layup.” Except . . . “Jordan flew from the top of the key and blocked the shot. There’s no one alive, now or then, who could have done that — I was that open. I show the play to my guys all the time because otherwise they wouldn’t believe I was actually on the same court with Jordan. They love it. In practice, they mimic it all the time. Except they can’t do the Jordan part. Me, they can do.”
As a senior, Driesell thought he’d go into the business world when he graduated. Then his dad got a call from Dave Laton, a former assistant who was then an assistant coach at the Naval Academy under Paul Evans. Navy needed someone to coach its prep school team in Newport, R.I. Chuck decided to give coaching a try. He had to enlist in the Navy — “went in as an ensign, got out as a lieutenant,” he said — and stayed there for three seasons until his dad got the job at James Madison and hired him as his top assistant in 1988.
“It was an amazing way to get my first look at Division I as a coach,” he said. “Dad gave me a lot of responsibility, and we worked hard. As a son and as a player, I’m not sure I understood how hard he worked. I figured it out pretty quickly.”
The Driesells turned the JMU program around, winning five Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles and reaching the NCAA tournament in 1994. The assumption for a while was that Chuck would succeed his dad when he retired.
“I thought that’s what would happen,” Chuck said. “. . . Then, things kind of fell apart between Dad and the administration, and it never happened.”
Lefty ended up at Georgia State, which had an antinepotism rule, so Chuck landed at Marymount — in Arlington — for six years, taking the school to the Division III tournament for the first time in history in 2000. From there, he went to work for Craig Esherick at Georgetown and coached at Bishop Ireton for three years before landing back at his alma mater under Gary Williams in 2006.
That led to an offer in 2010 to coach The Citadel, a school not famed for basketball success. Since the end of World War II, Citadel has had 16 coaches. Only Norman Sloan, who was there from 1956 to 1960, left with a winning record.
Driesell’s contract wasn’t renewed in the spring of 2015. He had two kids in college and a third who was a high school senior. He needed a job. Within a month he had one: at San Jose State, working for Dave Wojcik, whom he had worked with at James Madison. A month later, he got a call from Ted Bardach, who had been his assistant coach at Marymount. Bardach had heard from Maret football Coach Mike Engelberg that Maret needed a basketball coach. Was he interested?
“On the one hand, I had landed a pretty good job with Dave,” Chuck said. “On the other hand, all my kids were on the East Coast and my wife [Paula] is from this area — and so am I. She liked the idea. So did I. It’s worked out great.”
It didn’t hurt when Driesell arrived that 6-foot-11 Luka Garza was going into his junior year.
“I could see Luka had a lot of potential as soon as I got here,” Chuck said. “. . . I knew I was right, though, when my dad saw him and loved him. Dad’s a pretty good talent evaluator.”
Garza will be at Iowa next season. Maret was 18-11 a year ago and this year was co-regular season champion of the MAC with Sidwell Friends. It isplaying in the MAC tournament this weekend and next weekend will play in the city tournament, in which it will be seeded first or second.
“It doesn’t matter where you coach; winning is always awesome, and losing’s not,” Driesell said with a smile. “I think we’re good enough to win the next two weekends. I’d love to win, but if we don’t, I’ll be disappointed and still look forward to going to work every day.”
He looked at his watch again. It was time to go. The kindergartners awaited. For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.