In Their Words: Remembering Charles “Lefty” Driesell

a men's basketball team holds a coach on their shoulders

The impact of Charles "Lefty" Driesell extended far beyond the basketball court, shaping the Davidson community in ways that will be remembered for generations.

As head coach of the men's basketball team more than 50 years ago (1960-1969), he left an indelible mark on Davidson College, leading the program to national prominence, including back-to-back appearances in the Elite Eight in the 1968 and 1969 NCAA Tournaments. 

We asked community members to celebrate Lefty's legacy by reflecting on his remarkable career and life. 

Here are the personal stories and memories from those who were fortunate enough to have their Davidson journeys intersect with Lefty's coaching era. Responses have been edited for spelling, grammar and clarity.

Who can forget the Lefty stomp when he was unhappy with a ref’s call?

Lee Cross ‘69, M.D.

"In the fall of 1960, all freshmen who weren’t participating in other athletics were required to attend PE classes. Lefty led the basketball portion. My only real memory of that was the absolute certainty that the only reason he was there was to look for hidden talent. Always scouting. 

A more vivid memory came a few months later…watching from my East basement window as the pandemonium poured out of Richardson Gym the night we upset Wake. Probably the last home game I missed."

-Ed Rudert ’64

As a student during Lefty’s era, you would not miss a home game. His whole heart was for those who played for him. His storied attempts to get recruits were amazing as sleeping in his car between visits. Actually loaning his car on a visit to one so he could make an engagement with his girlfriend. Great recruiter, loved the game and especially those who played for him. 

-Bill Gayle ‘61

For those of us who were fortunate enough to be a part of Davidson in the '60s, Lefty was OUR coach and Davidson was a national basketball powerhouse. Moving on a few years, some of us living in Atlanta were able to relive those Davidson years when he took over at Georgia State. What a coach! We always looked forward to Lefty's talks to the Student Assembly as only he could give them. I often wondered if he realized how much we all loved him then. He will always be remembered.

L. Tom Heffner Jr. '65, M.D.

"I blame Lefty for my being a poor golfer. Lefty came to Davidson in the fall of my sophomore year, 1960. In addition to coaching basketball, Lefty had to teach P.E. classes. I was excited to have golf as my PE elective. There was no golf practice area so we gathered on the soccer field in our little grey gym outfits. Lefty shows up carrying a baseball bag of golf clubs and a bag of golf balls. He holds up the two bags and says 'boys, these are golf clubs and these are golf balls. You hit the golf balls with the golf clubs. I’m going recruiting!'

We never saw him again. Needless to say, no one ratted Lefty out to the PE department. Our golf games did not improve but the results of his recruiting were excellent."

-Jason McDaniel ‘63

I entered Davidson the same year that Lefty’s great recruiting class entered - Fred Hetzel, Barry Teague, Don Davidson. I was a walk-on on the freshman team for about a month. Then Lefty had Coach Hunt cut all of the non-scholarship players. I think four of us got cut. I did some chart keeping for some games. Any loose ball was a rebound for somebody. Lefty could shake the building with his foot stomping at either ref call he did not like or when a play went wrong. He did make basketball memorable while he was there. It was a shame that the ’65 team did not get to the small dance (only conference champs went to the tournament). 

Richard Brand ’65

"I vividly remember the way he used to come off of the bench to yell at a referee. It was usually either Charlie Eckman or Lou Bellow (two guys who always put on a show) who received the Lefty shout out.

Lefty would position himself on the bench and launch into the air so as to land on both feet at the same time, and bring his arms down swiftly. He would yell out something like, 'Charlie, are you blind or what?'

Also, I have never forgotten a Wofford game one night when their center (a rather large and slow guy) was trying to guard Fred Hetzel. Upon receiving his 5th foul toward the end of the game, he turned to Bellow with his hands out and said something. Bellow turned around toward the Davidson side and shouted out loud enough for everyone in the gym to hear, 'I can't help it if he is an All American!'

Lefty was a great coach and will be missed."

-Warren Plowden ’65

When asked by a sports writer if he thought that college basketball was becoming too much of a contact sport, Lefty replied something like, 'dancing is a contact sport – basketball is a collision sport!'

Bill Shutt '70

"I attended Davidson from September 1961 to June 1965 on a need-based scholarship that required filling some positions at the college for 10 hours a week. I had the pleasure and blessing of being assigned to work in the Admission Office, then headed by H. Edmunds White, and his two extremely likable and capable assistants whose names I'm ashamed that I can no longer recall. What a delightful place that office was for me! One constant, at least 2-3 times a week, were the visits from Lefty. He would storm into (enter is too mild a term) the office and ask about the status of the admission of his recruits. He would initiate these visits long before the admissions process had been completed, but he still wanted to learn whatever information our office had about each recruit. Lefty simply could not live with the replies, 'We have not made a decision yet,' or 'We cannot yet say whether he will be accepted.' He always remained courteous, but we could tell that he was exasperated. Mr. White and his two assistants were consistently patient and responsive at every visit from Lefty. I have to add that his visits became somewhat of a no-prize lottery among those of us in the office: on some days, we would predict when Lefty would show up on that day, and all of us became fairly adept in guessing correctly.   

Lefty has to be one of the greatest college basketball recruiters in NCAA history.  He made the Wildcats a household name in the U.S. throughout his years at Davidson, a school of only about 1,000 men at the time. God bless Lefty for his contribution to Davidson athletics and may God bless his family at this time of their loss."

Ron Ayers ’65

When Lefty arrived at Davidson, I don’t think any of us had high expectations for the basketball program. He gave us 10 of the most exciting years of our lives and laid the groundwork for basketball success which continues to this day.

James F. Lewis ’64

"The first was in the fall of 1965, my freshman year. At orientation, Lefty had invited our class to let him know about any hometown prospect that he should know about. I was from Houston, relatively far away. Texas is about football, not basketball. Nevertheless, in my senior year of high school, there had been a local junior whose name and photo seemed to be front page features of the Saturday sports section during basketball season. His name was Jerry Kroll. So, I stopped by to inform Lefty about Kroll. Lefty told me, 'Yeah, we got him.' I responded, 'You mean you already know about him?' He said, 'I mean we know about him and he’s going be here next year.' I thought, 'wow!'"

-Tom O’Brien ’69

I was a student from 1962 to 1966, plus on the football coaching staff 1966-1967. I don’t remember where or by whom I heard this story, so it might not be true. But it is certainly believable. Evidently, Davidson did not have much of a recruiting budget, but Lefty figured out a way to make those dollars stretch. Supposedly he would call a prospect and tell him that he would have a layover at the prospect’s hometown airport. He would ask if the prospect could meet with him at the airport during the layover. Lefty would drive to the airport, leave his car in the parking lot, meet the prospect at the airport, look at his watch after the visit was over and say he had to catch his flight. After the prospect left, Lefty would walk to the parking lot, get in his car, and drive to the next airport.

Richard Short ’66

"A main reason that I went to Davidson was it was an excellent small liberal arts college in the south that had aspirations to play major college basketball. The clincher for me was when Lefty Driesell recruited one of the best basketball players in the U.S., Fred Hetzel, who was from my home town of Bethesda, Maryland. This did not disappoint - I got a great education at Davidson and could root for and see an NCAA top 10 basketball team coached by Lefty. The Wildcats were ranked 6th in the country my senior year and Fred Hetzel was an all-American and number one pick in the NBA draft that year. Thank you Lefty for convincing him to come to Davidson and for the thrills of watching big time basketball there."

-Clark Morrell ’65

It was the fall of 1960 and Davidson had a new basketball coach, Lefty Driesell, fresh from the ranks of Virginia high school basketball where he had won two state championships. It was his first game and the opponent was Wake Forest, ranked nationally at the time, to be played in Johnson Gymnasium, which held maybe 1,500 people standing room only. Wake had a couple of key players injured, but was still heavily favored against a Davidson team that included a future Rhodes scholar, a 6’3” big man, and the son of the college president. Thanks to some inspired playing and coaching, aided by a very noisy crowd, Davidson won the game and most of the crowd retired to Hattie’s (just up the road) for a celebratory beer. It was a great way to start what was to become an illustrious career for Lefty.

Rick Finch ’64

Most of my memories of Lefty have faded over the years – no doubt something to do with aging. This is unfortunate as Lefty had a massive influence on me with respect to my future both as a basketball player, and as a maturing adult after I left Davidson. Basketball-wise, his belief in playing strong aggressive no-switch man to man defense became a cornerstone of my game post-Davidson. As Lefty said, defense is ninety percent desire, and anyone can do that.

He said much the same about how we should approach life and what we wanted to achieve. I recall he specifically said that no matter what vocation or profession we decided to pursue we should seek to be the best we could be. By example, he said, 'If you become a janitor, be the best janitor.'

He was big, friendly, self-confident, loud and driven – absolutely hated to lose and was committed to winning. Over my following four years at Davidson he never changed.

-Rocky Crosswhite ‘69

I only had minimal face to face interactions with Lefty during my four years, but they were all positive. Overall, I remember the great pride I had in Davidson athletics due to the basketball success that Lefty brought to us nationally.

John Little ‘66

"It was a Friday afternoon in October of 1960. As President of the Interfraternity Council, I was on the balcony of Johnston Gym overseeing fraternity decorations for the Homecoming dance. After feeling a slight nudge, I looked around and saw Coach Lefty Driesell observing the activity below. He asked me what was going on down there and I explained the fraternities were decorating for the Homecoming dance. 'On my basketball court?' was his only question. Obviously intimidated by the look on the face of an adult who was now our basketball head coach, I answered his question stupidly with the first and only thing that came to mind: 'Well. I'm sure they are doing what has been done for years.'

With that unsatisfactory resolution, Coach Driesell just shook his head and walked a few steps back into his office. One of the other head coaches who had witnessed this little 'altercation,' later said to me, 'Don't worry about it, Jerry, he'll be gone in a year or two.'

On the following Monday morning, there were two white commercial vans parked in front of Johnston Gym. Inside, the basketball floor was being refinished, obviously in time for Lefty Driesell's first Davidson-coached basketball game against nationally-ranked Wake Forest (which were also ACC Champions that season) which he won.....much to the joyful enthusiasm of Davidson students and much to the disappointment of one Horace (Bones) McKinney."

-Jerry L. Cole ’61

Last night, I heard an interview with Virginia Tech Women's Basketball Coach Kenny Brooks. Coach Brooks played for Coach Driesell at James Madison in the 1990s. Kenny Brooks said "We asked 'Why is he doing this TO us?' Now we realize that he was doing it FOR us." Coach Lefty Driesell taught many of us to be 'winners' as we have traveled Life's Highways. Thank you, Coach. RIP.

Ken Briggs ’64

"My memories of Lefty Driesell goes back 64 years when, as a young student from Norway, I had the good fortune to spend a year at Davidson thanks to a scholarship from the Richardson Foundation. Basketball was almost unknown where I grew up. At Davidson, it was a big sport that I of course went to watch. I was especially fascinated by the, let’s say, very 'active manner' of Coach Driessel as he was accompanying his team. I had never seen anything like it before in any sport. 

The Davidson College paper asked the new international students to write a few of their impressions upon arrival to campus. I related my impressions of two matters which had struck me. First the size of the students, but there was an explanation to this. I had arrived a few days early and what I had seen were the members of the football team … when the others arrived, things became more normal … and basketball with Coach Driesell!"

-Kristian Juel ’61

"While I was a student, I received a note in my dorm room that Coach Driesell wanted to see me in his office. On the way to his office, I thought that he may have seen me playing intramural basketball and I imagined how I would look in a uniform if he wanted me to join his varsity team. When I arrived in his office, he said, 'Marion, I understand that you are president of your class and I want you to write a letter on behalf of Student Government to a recruit named Charlie Scott. Charlie told me that he plans to enroll at Davidson, but I have heard from my sources that he is wavering and may choose Carolina. Please tell Charlie in your letter that the students at Davidson hope that he will play basketball for the Wildcats.' Coach Driesell gave me Charlie’s address at Laurinburg Academy, so I wrote and mailed the letter, although I was disappointed that I would not be joining the varsity. A couple of weeks later, I read in the newspaper that Charlie Scott had announced that he would attend UNC Chapel Hill and play for Coach Dean Smith. During his basketball career, Scott was an All-American at Carolina and an All-Star in the NBA, so I always wondered whether something that I said or failed to say in my letter may have prevented the opportunity for Davidson to have had him as a student-athlete."

-Paul Marion ’67

An amazing character who did more for Davidson name recognition than anyone up to the arrival of one Stephen Curry.

Steve Smith ’66

"In 2015 at the 50th reunion for the class of 1965, Lefty was the main speaker. That was the Class of Fred Hetzel and Barry Teague. It was my 45th reunion so I opted to join that class for dinner. Terry Holland made the trip to be with his teammates. Lefty was in his element. He had everyone laughing all evening. The next afternoon we: Holland, Teague, Hetzel and I, joined Lefty for about three hours telling stories in the sitting room at the College Inn. I looked around the room and commented that if we just had Dick Snyder, we would be a pretty great team. Without hesitations Barry said, 'any team with Hetzel and Snyder on it would be a great team.' It was a memorable afternoon.

Only fond memories and solid, lifelong friendships survive. It was a good day to be a Wildcat then. Still is today!"

-Jerry Kroll ’70

With his size, his big voice and his outsized personality Lefty made a big impression on the small Davidson College community. Lefty made it clear that he planned to put Davidson on the national basketball map.

Mike Payne ’64

"In my junior year, I became the director of the pep band. By that time, we had a full house for most home basketball games and the pep band worked hard to try to motivate the crowd during time outs and halftime. The crowd seemed to respond, but I had no idea whether Coach Driesell even knew we were there or not. With the renewed enthusiasm for basketball, we decided it would be nice to have some sort of pep band uniforms. We checked with Belk's and found that they had bright red blazers, for maybe $20 apiece. The music department did not have money for blazers for us, so it was suggested we ask the Athletics Department for money for blazers and I was sent off to ask for money. 

I approached my meeting with Coach Driesell with much trepidation, but he greeted me with a firm handshake and after I mumbled the reason for my visit, he broke into a tirade (in a good sense) about how great the pep band was, how much it meant to him, the team and the students to have us at games playing loudly, and on and on, ending up with, 'Sure, son, we can get you and your guys some red blazers, just keep up the good work.' I walked out of his office on Cloud Nine.

We proudly wore our red blazers for my last two years and tried to keep up the good work."

-J.P. Causey ’65


  • February 26, 2024