ATHENS, Ga. — Dan Magill, a name synonymous with Georgia athletics and Athens for nearly a century and beloved by generations of Bulldogs fans, died Saturday night at the age of 93.
“I’ve always thought and still do that he’s probably the greatest Bulldog of all time,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said in May 2012.
What didn’t Magill do at Georgia?
He was a national championship winning head tennis coach, sports information director and executive secretary of the Bulldog Club. All at the same time.
“He was all over the place,” McGarity said.
Magill traveled to all corners of the state to organize Bulldog Clubs.
“He touched so many people because he had all these roles,” said Georgia senior associate athletic director Claude Felton, who himself has served as a longtime sports information director.
Magill passed away after declining health in recent years. He was living in an assisted living facility in Athens, said Georgia men’s tennis coach Manuel Diaz, who played for Magill, was an assistant under him and succeeded him with the Bulldogs.
“He’s not only had a huge impact on my life, he’s had a huge impact on so many people, so many lettermen,” Diaz said on Sunday. “He made everybody feel special. He brought the best out of everyone. He was probably the most impactful man in the history of college tennis as a coach. It’s a sad day for all of us lettermen.”
When he retired from Georgia, Magill was still ever present.
He ran the Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame situated next to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. He was the unofficial historian for Georgia athletics and Athens sports for that matter. He wrote columns for the Athens Banner-Herald. He still played doubles tennis until 2012 and still drove almost daily to the Butts-Mehre building until his health would no longer allow him.
“He always wanted to show the tennis hall of fame building,” McGarity said. “I didn’t have the guts to say, `Coach, I just did that six months ago.’”
“Well, I got a new racket,” Magill would say.
“I just said, `Coach, I’ll be there,’ because he put so much pride in the building,’” McGarity said.
Magill had a magnetic personality that had folks wanting to hang out with him at a tennis match or have old-time sports writers like Atlanta Journal columnist Jessee Outlar be with him, McGarity said.
“Dan Magill, the most colorful character I have ever known, is also the most unforgettable,” former Bulldog Club executive director and radio sideline reporter Loran Smith wrote in a column to mark Magill’s 90th birthday.
In the column, Smith shared this anecdote of times spent together.
“Like the time a pretty waitress called for our order and Magill grinned, “How ‘bout a Heineken, honeykin.”
Daniel Hamilton Magill Jr. was born Jan. 25, 1921.
Athens Regional Hospital in recent years celebrated the fact that Magill was the first baby born there with a radio spot with Magill.
He became Georgia’s men’s tennis coach in 1955 and stayed in that job until after the 1988 season, compiling a 706-183 record with 13 SEC outdoor titles and eight indoor titles and two NCAA national championships in 1985 and 1987.
“I planned to do it just one year,” Magill said in 2007. “I didn’t have time. I told coach (Wally) Butts he ought to get somebody on the staff, but they didn’t have many paid coaches in those days. … I said I’ll coach one year. I coached 34 years. It was stress-relieving.”
Magill worked to make Athens the tennis capital of college tennis. To do that, he said he decided to give up his job as sports information director and with the Bulldog Club.
Athletic director Vince Dooley hired Felton to run sports information and promoted Magill to assistant athletic director.
He built what became known as the “mecca” of tennis, regularly hosting the NCAA championships, with some help from his famous friends.
Country hitmaker Kenny Rogers and home run king Hank Aaron showed up to play celebrity doubles.
Magill had photos of actress Kim Basinger near his desk from the dedication of the lights she gave. She sold sodas at tennis matches before she became famous.
The facility was named after him in 1993.
Magill retired in 1995 after clashes over gender equity issues pertaining to the use of the tennis complex by the women’s program that he had built for his men’s team.
“I’m sorry that it ended that way for Dan because he had been a great and loyal friend,” Dooley, the former Georgia football coach who was AD at the time, wrote in his book `Dooley: My 40 Years at Georgia.’ “I can’t think of one person who has meant more to the university than Dan Magill.”
Felton would turn to Magill, Bill Hartman Sr. or Loran Smith as resources on Bulldogs history.
Magill played doubles tennis twice a week - as late as 2012 - at an age when others may have had a hard time walking. He made sure to pick a partner that would help his side have the edge.
“I’d say who’s playing for the Washington Generals,” Felton said. “He always sets it up where he wins.”
Longtime Georgia swimming coach Jack Bauerle played tennis with Magill for 25 years.
“He’s meant the world to me as far as my career at Georgia,” Bauerle said. “I really feel he opened the door for all the other sports for us to win when he won in tennis because he built that up from nothing. I saw that happen here as an athlete here and as a coach. It gave me hope.”
Bauerle thought so highly of him that he named one of his sons Magill.
“He enjoyed people,” Bauerle said. “He was good to me. He always took an interest in me as a young coach. …He’s certainly someone I looked up to.”
Former Georgia tennis star John Isner, now a nationally ranked ATP player, tweeted Sunday: “Coach Dan Magill, it was an honor to have known you and learned from you. Undoubtedly the GREATEST BULLDOG OF ALL TIME.”
Survivors include his wife Rosemarie Reynaud Magill and three children Hamilton III and daughters Shannon and Mollie.
There will be a celebration of Magill’s life at noon Thursday at the Athens County Club. A private funeral will be held Thursday at 10 a.m.