Chuck Driesell, 744 NCAA wins shy of dad, em­braces coach­ing Maret

The Washington Post Sunday - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - Sports@wash­

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 wash­ing­ton­­in­stein.

John Fe­in­stein

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