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Embarking on a New Course : Lefty's Successor at Maryland Is of the Tight-Ship School

November 24, 1986|THOMAS BOSWELL | The Washington Post

Before Bob Wade's first practice this month as Maryland basketball coach, two players hadn't gotten their ankles taped. Wade was eager to get started. So he did what seemed natural. He grabbed some tape and grabbed an ankle.

"No, no, coach," cried the abashed Terrapins trainer. "Don't do that."

That was Wade's introduction to big-time ball. Dean Smith and Bobby Knight don't do ankles. Nor do they wash their players' jerseys, run the concession stands or clean the arena before a game--all tasks Wade routinely tackled when he was basketball coach, football coach, athletic director (and anything else that seemed necessary) at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore.

Some men, after the strain of the whirlwind weeks at Maryland since Lefty Driesell was forced to resign, might be frazzled. Not Wade.

"Tired?" rumbles the 6-foot-4, 240-pound coach who played defense for several years in the National Football League. "You're not that taxed physically in this job. You can del-e-gate. I'm used to doing more things than this. When my football team played in the mud, we'd still be at the school at 10 o'clock at night washing the uniforms."

But that was long ago. Last month.

No wonder the word "delegate" pleases Wade so much, like a new toy.

Although Wade isn't tired, his Terrapins surely are. When they run sprints, they carry a brick in each hand. Is this how Wade plans to lay a new foundation?

"This is the best shape I've ever been in," junior captain Derrick Lewis said. "I credit Coach Wade with that."

Under the university's straighten-up edict, Wade is allowed only 18 hours a week of practice time--about what some Top-10 teams spend on free throws. As a result, every minute is precious. "It's Thursday. You have botany lab this afternoon, right?" says Wade to Lewis. That means Maryland practice starts at 4 p.m. (not 3:30) after Lewis arrives. Can't waste that half hour.

"We break a sweat every day . . . in the first five minutes," said Lewis, laughing. "Everything is completely organized."

For a decade, Maryland has been as exasperating as it was gifted. Every season, Lefty Driesell romanced graceful teen-agers, some of them marginal students at best; then some would crack his sentimental heart with their antics. Driesell called players "young men." Wade calls them "these children."

Two kinds of coaches tend to reach the Final Four: the law makers and the law breakers. Autocrats and outlaws. Run the tightest ship or the loosest. Give 'em an education or a Trans-Am.

In the first category, we'd find Smith, Knight, John Thompson or, in their day, John Wooden or Hank Iba. It's your lucky break if they'll take you and make a man of you. Call the NCAA enforcement division for the long list of names in the second category; latest prominent entry, Dana Kirk.

Driesell was a charming good ol' boy with decent intentions who lacked the ability to implement his caring with tough love. One day angry and severe; next day lax and relaxed.

Driesell might be better suited to the NBA, where tolerant likable easy riders such as K. C. Jones, Pat Riley, Gene Shue and Billy Cunningham seem to prosper as often as disciplinarians such as Dick Motta, Jack Ramsay or Hubie Brown, who often are frustrated to distraction by the rich, laid-back pro life style.

This is Charles Driesell: Talk ball till the wee hours, spot talent a mile away, smooth feathers, know the Xs and Os adequately but love a sweet jump shot a whole lot more. He knows that keeping a Moses Malone happy and motivated is more important in the NBA than diagramming all the inbounds plays on earth.

In a few years, we may think Driesell got a lucky break that Maryland fired him; he escaped from a program in shambles that could, with bad luck, go winless in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.

Could Maryland get lucky, too?

On the basis of his 11 amazing years at Dunbar (how do you go 272-24?), Wade is clearly from the disciplinarian mold. He looks as if he'd deck you if you talked back to him and make you run with a brick in your mouth if you loafed. His players will respect him or fear him, or both, and he doesn't much care which. But they probably will do what he says. And that's what Maryland needs.

Maryland Chancellor John B. Slaughter says he was most impressed that Wade's former players (even when they were in famous college programs) still called him when they had serious life problems and wanted honest answers.

When Slaughter says things like, "I chose Bob Wade first for his qualities as a man," he sets the first black coach in ACC history up as a moral paragon--and that's always risky. Anybody know any 41-year-old saints? Wade will be under a microscope. Slaughter, who made his pick in a hurry, better hope Wade is squeaky clean, not to mention patient as a rock if North Carolina beats him by 40.

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