By John Frierson on UGA Athletics website
Dan Magill arrived in this world 100 years ago today, on Jan. 25, 1921. It is not known if he was born wearing a pair of his colorful, eye-catching trousers or one of his many distinctive hats on that momentous day, but it feels right to think so.
Magill, an Athens native who had a 59-year relationship with and a lifelong love for the University of Georgia and Bulldog athletics, died on Aug. 23, 2014, at age 93. Though he may be gone, the memories of the man and all he did, and the legacy he left behind, remain strong.
“He just was remarkable,” said Loran Smith, a Georgia legend, author and historian like Magill.
The Georgia tennis facility that came from Magill’s vision and passion bears his name: the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. The press box at Sanford Stadium is named for him also, honoring his 27 years as Georgia’s sports information director. In addition, the Magill Society, one of the UGA Athletic Association’s fundraising entities, recognizes his 25 years as secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club.
“That’s three completely different areas of athletics — the fundraising part, the tennis part, the media and sports information part. I mean, talk about touching people in a lot of different walks of life in a positive way — that was him,” said Claude Felton, Georgia’s Loran Smith Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Communications, who first started working with Magill in 1979.
In 1990, Uga V made his debut as the Georgia mascot, and he was named “UGA IV’s Magilicuddy II” in honor of Magill.
John Isner, one of the greatest Georgia tennis players of all time and the top American on the ATP Tour for most of the past decade-plus, has an English cocker spaniel named Magill. Isner never played for Magill, but they developed a close relationship during and after Isner’s great Bulldog career, which included the 2007 NCAA championship. Magill the dog is closing in on 14 years old, Isner said, and he still loves chasing after tennis balls.
“As I’ve often joked, I think half the things named for him are dogs,” said Magill’s son, Ham, a retired cardiologist whose full name is Daniel Hamilton Magill, III. “As he often pointed out to me, I’m one of the people named for him, too.”
Jack Bauerle, Georgia’s Tom Cousins Swimming and Diving Head Coach, first got to know Magill when Bauerle was a Bulldog swimmer in the early 1970s — Magill lettered in swimming at Georgia in the early 1940s. They grew closer when Bauerle returned to Athens as a coach, taking over the women’s program in 1979 and the men’s in 1983, and were very dear friends for many, many years. Bauerle’s middle child, now 23 years old and a former Georgia Southern punter, is named Magill.
What does it say about the life someone led that so many different things are named in his honor?
“It says an awful lot,” Bauerle said. “There are very few days that go by without me thinking of him.”
“I’m proud as a peacock that all these things are named for him,” Ham Magill said.
After 34 years as Georgia’s men’s tennis coach, Magill retired in 1988 with two NCAA team titles (1985 and 1987) and 706 career victories, the most ever at the time. He knew and understood the game exceptionally well, but it was his ability to get the most out of his players that stood out most to David Benjamin, who coached at Princeton for 26 years, was the head of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association for 38 years and was very close friends with Magill for decades.
“One and all of his players, they would run through walls for Dan,” Benjamin said. “One of the extraordinary things as a coach that he was able to do … my Princeton teams played against Dan’s teams, and I watched his teams play at the NCAAs year after year, and the ability that Dan had to have a group of very good college players in important situations play two or three levels above their ability was very, very extraordinary.”
George Bezecny was a senior on the 1985 national championship team. He played No. 2 singles and reached the finals of the NCAA singles tournament, losing to teammate and roommate Mikael Pernfors. Bezecny still gets emotional when talking about what it meant to deliver that national championship to Magill, the only thing that had been missing from the coach’s lengthy and legendary list of accomplishments.
“Looking back on it, one of the things was to see him after that team title, that final day — it was just an honor to be there after all the history and everything he did for Georgia,” Bezecny said. “To see him, to have the luck to be there at that time, at that pinnacle, when he finally has the title. To play in that environment and to have that success, to finally hit the top, because the team title was the holy grail.
“To be there and to see him after so many years achieve that was the greatest thing. To see his face that day and be around him was tremendous, and I’ll never forget that. You play for Magill, you’re playing for Georgia, and you’re 100% in.”
In everything he did, Magill was 100% in.
“He had a passion for whatever it was that was right in front of him,” said Georgia men’s tennis coach Manuel Diaz, who played for Magill, served as his assistant coach, and then replaced him when Magill retired in 1988.
“I have never come across anybody that loved the University of Georgia as much as him or wore it on his sleeve the way he did. It was his passion, it was his love, and I got very lucky in being able to see that early on as a student-athlete at the university. And when I came back as his assistant coach nearly 40 years ago.”
How Magill found the time and the energy to lead the tennis program, head up the sports information department and serve as secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club, as well as being a good husband and father to his wife, Rosemary, and children Mollie, Ham and Sharon, is a mystery.
“He loved what he was doing and was doing it all the time, but he also certainly had more than enough time for us,” Ham Magill said.
On top of all of his Georgia jobs, he brought the NCAA tennis tournament to Athens year after year, worked extensively with the ITA, ran the Crackerland tennis tournament in the summer for many, many years, started and served as curator of the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame beginning in 1983, wrote countless articles, multiple books, worked extensively in his garden on Woodlawn Avenue and poured himself into numerous other projects.
“I probably spoke to him at the very least once every two weeks once I was out of school and playing professionally,” said Isner, who when he was in town would often be the “surprise partner” during Magill’s Sunday morning doubles matches “There he was in his late 80s or 90 years old, and we would play doubles, and of course Coach Magill got two bounces. It was just great, it was so much fun..”
In everything Magill did, he seemed to be having a great time. He joked, he played pranks, he told stories and passed along bits of history — so much so, Smith said, that “I had a pretty thorough history of Georgia when I graduated just from drinking beer with Dan.”
Greg McGarity, who grew up playing tennis on Georgia’s courts, worked closely with Magill for many years and in 2020 wrapped up a great decade as the Bulldogs’ J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics, said seeing how hard Magill worked while also enjoying himself left a lasting impression.
“I think the work ethic was what set a tone very early in my life,” McGarity said. “He was so creative and so funny. The thing I learned from him was that he had a lot of fun at work. He had a lot of fun. He was able to laugh at himself when he screwed up. It wasn’t the end of the world, he just laughed and would curse a little bit.”
Magill’s wardrobe, like the man himself, also made a lasting impression. Diaz remembers the first time he saw the man that would have such a dramatic effect on his life. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Diaz and his father were in the United States visiting colleges, and when they came to visit Georgia they met Magill at the tennis courts.
“He comes down from the corner of the bleachers there by court 1, and I look at his pants and I look at his hat, and I’m going, like, ‘I have never seen anything like this before,'” Diaz recalled with a laugh.
The ITA Hall of Fame doesn’t bear Magill’s name the way the tennis complex does, or the Sanford Stadium press box, but Magill’s name is still written all over it. Founded in 1983, with Magill leading the way, the Hall of Fame was his passion for the last 20-plus years of his life after he retired from coaching. He was inducted in 1989 and served as curator until very late in his life.
There’s a large Steve Penley painting of Magill that guests see as they come through the front doors. To the right of that is a poster of Magill from a 2015 exhibit celebrating his life at Georgia’s Special Collections Library. And 10 feet right of that is Magill’s old desk, which features photos from his fascinating and productive life. Hanging over the chair is a pair of classic Magill pants, in navy with little tennis rackets all over them.
As a lifelong player and fan of tennis and a passionate historian and caretaker of college tennis, the Hall of Fame was in many ways Magill’s perfect job.
“I know he loved coaching and working with the players, but it in some ways this was maybe the closest to his heart because it pulled it all together,” Benjamin said. “And in so much of his life, he’d been involved, since World War II, with college tennis. He loved finding new memorabilia, finding new photos — it was in a way his baby.
“I think it did give him a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure once he wasn’t actively coaching anymore.”
A legend was born 100 years ago today, and the legend lives on as strong as ever, through his decades of work at and for Georgia and in collegiate tennis. More than all that, however, Magill was the sun around which so many people from different worlds and walks of life orbited. He seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to know him.
“I think that’s his greatest legacy,” Bauerle said, “how many people he brought together and that are friends because of him. What better thing could anyone ever do?”