An excellent piece from my colleague Carroll Rogers on the coach of Georgia Tech’s opponent, the son of an ACC legend
Chuck Driesell comes from good recruiting stock. His father Lefty, the legendary college basketball coach at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State, was a recruiting wizard, attracting the kind of talent to take four programs to the NCAA tournament, three of them from relative obscurity.
Stories have been passed down over the years about Lefty sleeping on a mattress in the back of his station wagon while recruiting for Davidson on a $500 budget. And he still was able to turn the small liberal arts school into a national power in the 1960s.
The running joke is you can’t Driesell without “S-E-L-L.”
Even with that pedigree, Chuck Driesell has taken on a tall task. He is three years into his first head college coaching job at The Citadel, the military school in Charleston, S.C., with demanding requirements, tough academics and 53 losing seasons in its 76 years of basketball history. The Citadel plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Driesell knew he was dealing with a different animal when he found himself on recruiting visits, informing prospects if they came to The Citadel, they’d have to get up at 5:30 a.m. every day. No sense in sugarcoating.
“I’ve (tried) to paint the clearest picture I can to each recruit what it’s going to be like here and not cover anything up,” Driesell said. “(It’s) almost to a point where I’ve lost recruits that were very talented and could really help us win right away. But I need young men that are going to know what they’re getting themselves into, so that they have the character and discipline — or at least enough of it — to be able to make it through when it gets tough because it is not easy.”
Freshman year at The Citadel, better known as knob year, is grueling. The early morning wake-up is just the start of it. Rigid daily schedules include uniform inspections, drills and mandatory study halls.
Knobs aren’t allowed to return to the barracks and take naps. They can only walk on certain areas of the sidewalk. They must always keep their right hands free, in case they need to salute. They have to walk at “quicktime,” 120 steps per minute, and aren’t allowed to use elevators.
In the mess hall during lunch, they must be able to recite on command everything from the cadet creed or alma mater, to their rifle serial number or the name, location and purpose of any campus building.
Lights are out every night at 11 p.m.
Forget the “I remember the day …” stories Lefty Driesell might tell his son about how difficult it was recruiting for Davidson in the 1960s. He believes his son has it harder.
“I got guys that wanted to go to Harvard and Yale and Princeton,” Lefty said recently. “(Davidson) was a great academic school. It was different going into somebody’s home and selling them on academics. You don’t have to get up every morning and drill and wear a uniform and go through all that stuff as a freshman.”
But like father, like son. Chuck Driesell has made some inroads into the best way to sell The Citadel — to parents.
“They love it,” he said in a similar gravely tone as his father’s. “I tell them, ‘I know exactly where your son is going to be every night at 11 o’clock.’”
Growing up with a coach for a father, Driesell often shared the dinner table with recruits as a kid. He shot baskets with them in the backyard. He played for his father at Maryland and then spent nine years as an assistant with him at James Madison, learning how to recruit. He began building his own reputation for recruiting after he went back to Maryland as an assistant coach under Gary Williams.
But Driesell wanted to be a head coach and he was not going to back down from challenges at The Citadel, a school that had actually recruited him out of high school.
“My dad built his career on taking programs where people said it was going to be difficult,” Driesell said. “And he did very well. That was not a deterrent for me at all.”
The Bulldogs went 10-22 in his first year with a veteran team Driesell inherited. Then starting nearly anew last season, The Citadel went 6-24. The Bulldogs are 3-6 so far this season after losing Wednesday night at St. Bonaventure.
The Citadel is 12-61 all-time in Southern Conference tournament play and has never made the NCAA tournament. There are no easy fixes either, because transfers aren’t really an option. The Citadel won’t take them mid-year and even if he’s admitted at the start of a school year, what transfer wants to go through a knob year – which is required – after he’s already been a freshman somewhere else?
Of 13 players on the roster, 11 are freshmen or sophomores. Driesell has one senior and one graduate student transfer, thanks to one rule The Citadel can take advantage of. Driesell has added Stephen Elmore, son of former Maryland great Lenny Elmore, who played for Lefty Driesell. As a graduate student, Stephen doesn’t have military responsibilities. But it’s only a short-term fix.
Driesell knows his biggest job is to recruit high school seniors well and then convince them to stick it out. The odds are stacked against him, but Driesell believes in the value of a military education.
If not for the lure of playing for his father, Driesell thinks he would have come to The Citadel. He got his first coaching job out of college as the head coach of the Naval Academy Prep School.
“I think it’s awesome,” Driesell said of military education. “It has such a great value in teaching discipline and time management and multi-tasking and teamwork and camaraderie, just those things that you can keep with you for the rest of your life. I’m a firm believer in it.”
If and when he needs a little encouragement from his dad, Lefty likes to say that one of the reasons Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is so successful is he got his start as a player and then coach at West Point. He points out that Krzyzewski got time to build his program at Duke too, after posting back-to-back losing seasons in the early 1980s.
The Driesells know it’s going to take patience at The Citadel too.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but we’re working hard at it,” Chuck Driesell said. “And I love this place.”
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog