Only three major college coaches have won 800 games: Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, and Jim Phelan, who is still coaching at Mount St. Mary's in Maryland.
Bob Knight is three victories away, and in all probability only a few more seasons from passing Smith's record of 879 to assure a place atop the list of legends many would begrudge him.
Lefty Driesell will never get to 800 after hanging up his whistle at Georgia State last week only 14 shy of the mark, worn out at 71 after nearly 41 seasons.
The recognition Driesell deserves might never come.
Driesell was a finalist on the Hall of Fame ballot last year. But despite all his victories he never advanced past the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, and perhaps more damaging, he remains associated with the aftermath of the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias at Maryland in 1986.
Whether he'll ever been enshrined in Springfield, Mass., is hard to say.
"Lefty's one of the top coaches ever in the college game," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who considers him a close friend. "I think sometimes because a coach hasn't gone to the Final Four or won a national championship, people tend to diminish what they've accomplished. Lefty's a survivor. He put every ounce of effort into building programs that were very successful wherever he went."
Not once did Driesell take over a program that already was thriving. From Davidson to Maryland to James Madison to Georgia State, he built every one, taking tiny Davidson as well as giant Maryland to the brink of making the Final Four and reaching the NCAA tournament with James Madison and Georgia State.
Knight still electrifies an arena merely by walking into it, as he did when No. 23 Texas Tech played at San Diego State on Monday night. Students held up mass-produced signs urging him to "Lose it, Coach!" and another headlined, "Bob Knight's New Year's Resolutions: No Yelling, No Chair-Throwing, No Choking."
Driesell was never so volatile or quite so controversial, but there was an aura about him during his 17 years at Maryland, when he built a national power with a country-boy's pitchman skills that belied the fact he was an honors graduate of Duke.
Long before Krzyzewski arrived to challenge Smith in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the great rivalry was between Lefty and Dean.
One of Driesell's great recruiting triumphs came in the early 1970s, when Tom McMillen -- later a U.S. Congressman -- chose Maryland over North Carolina.
McMillen recalls how he challenged Driesell during recruiting about the Maryland library having fewer volumes than the libraries at Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.
"Right away, Lefty told me that after I'd read all the books [in Maryland's library], he'd buy me any more I needed," McMillen told the Washington Post.
Another near-coup could have changed the history of college basketball: Moses Malone had agreed to play for Maryland in 1974 before he became the first player to turn pro out of high school, joining the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Assn.
And one more near-miss with history. In 1974, when only the conference tournament winner made the NCAA field, a No. 4 Maryland team with McMillen, John Lucas and Len Elmore lost to a No. 1 North Carolina State team led by David Thompson and Tom Burleson in overtime of the ACC final, 103-100.
The Wolfpack went on to win the NCAA title, interrupting UCLA's run. Maryland and Driesell were left with "what ifs," and Maryland's first NCAA title didn't come until last year, under Gary Williams, who paid him tribute last week.
"If you say the name, 'Lefty,' people know who you're talking about," Williams said.
"He was a great promoter, which needed to be done at Maryland. He was the reason the seats got moved to the floor of Cole Field House. He was the reason Midnight Madness got started, nationally. It was his idea. I don't think anybody out-worked Lefty. If he had to stay on the job 18 hours a day, he would. He's been a great competitor, no matter where he's been."
In the end, he was too weary to keep slogging toward 800. At 4-6, it didn't look like it was coming this season.
So Driesell steps aside, and Knight, at 62, rolls on with a 10-1 team that might be able to avoid last season's fate, another first-round NCAA loss by a Knight team.
Instead of tiring, Knight seems more energized.
"I'm not sure I've ever been satisfied," he said. "In fact, the year we were 32-0 [with Indiana in 1976], I think I was [complaining] about something or other after the last game."
Unless something drastic happens -- never out of the question with Knight -- before too long he figures to have won more games than any coach in college basketball history.
"He's one of the top coaches in any sport ever," said Krzyzewski, who played and coached for Knight at Army and has overcome his own rough patch in their relationship. "It's just great for the game, first of all that he's back coaching and that he's done it for so long.... I hope he gets a lot more than the 800."
Around the Rim
Give the early title for turnaround team to Michigan. After an 0-6 start, the Wolverines are 8-6, including their victory over UCLA. It gets a little rougher with the Big Ten season underway, however.... The intriguing team of the moment is Richmond. The Spiders are only 7-5, but after Tuesday's upset of No. 21 Xavier, they have beaten two ranked teams. (Stanford was No. 17 when Richmond defeated the Cardinal last month.) Granted, Xavier was playing without point guard Lionel Chalmers, who broke his foot in a victory over Creighton last week, and Stanford was without point guard Chris Hernandez, out for the season because of a broken foot. USC fans might take note of the first-year coach: It's Jerry Wainwright, the coach at North Carolina Wilmington last season when the Seahawks upset USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament.... The injury report on Stanford's Justin Davis is not as bad as imagined. Davis suffered a knee injury in Saturday's loss at Cal. The injury proved to be only a ligament sprain, and Davis, being fitted for a brace, could return this week.... Oregon Coach Ernie Kent on the difference between this season's Arizona team and last season's Wildcats after losing at home to Arizona even though Luke Walton didn't play because of an ankle injury: "No. 1, they play with a lot more energy over 40 minutes, and that's because they have a deeper, more athletic bench," Kent said. "They seem to have a lot more energy and don't have as many lulls as they would in the course of the game last year." Arizona lost some depth with the decision of reserve guard Will Bynum to transfer. Bynum started nine games last season and two this season. "I thought he had been making a lot of progress but he wasn't getting the amount of time on the court he felt he needed to have to get to where he wants to go," Coach Lute Olson said. "He's a great kid and worked very hard in practice situations, but he has [Jason] Gardner ahead of him [at the point] and [shooting guard] Salim Stoudamire is our best perimeter shooter and most consistent shooter and one of our best defenders, so he had a challenge in both of those spots." ... The latest in the saga of Western Kentucky 7-footer Chris Marcus is that he finally made his season debut Saturday, playing nine minutes in a loss to Middle Tennessee State. He had two points and two rebounds. Marcus, once a projected NBA lottery pick, has had difficulty recovering from off-season foot surgery after returning to try to improve his draft status.
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Head of the Class
With the retirement of Lefty Driesell, Jim Phelan of Mount St. Mary's College tops the list for most victories by active Division I coaches:
*--* Coach Wins School Jim Phelan 826 Mount St. Mary's Bob Knight 797 Texas Tech Lou Henson 750 New Mexico State Eddie Sutton 713 Oklahoma State John Chaney 678 Temple Lute Olson 671 Arizona Mike Krzyzewski 647 Duke Jim Calhoun 634 Connecticut Jim Boeheim 632 Syracuse