A toast to Dan Magill: The greatest Bulldog of all

Once Dan Magill was in your life, he was in your life forever.

Greg McGarity was 10 years old when he started working for Coach Magill at the University of Georgia tennis courts in 1964.

“He would give us free tennis lessons in the summer and we would work for him doing every job you could name,” said McGarity, who would later play for Magill. “That evolved into a lot of different jobs over the years. He taught us the value of hard work and the value of relationships. You had to work at both of them seven days a week.”

Today, some 50 years later, McGarity is the UGA Athletic Director. Like so many of us who came under Dan Magill’s wing as students, he was mourning the death of his mentor on Sunday afternoon.

“We (McGarity and his wife Sheryl) went to see him two weeks ago and took him a (football) media guide,” McGarity said. “I pointed to a picture of Herschel Walker and he said ‘Goal Line Stalker.’ Then he asked where my picture was. He saw it and said ‘Baby Greg McGarity.’ That was a good day.”

Coach Magill had already been working for Georgia 15 years when Vince Dooley arrived as football coach in December of 1963.

“There will never be another one like him,” said Dooley, who retired as head coach in 1988 and remained as AD until 2004. “He was — and will always be — the greatest Bulldog of all.”

Magill’s accomplishments are legendary. Out of nothing, he built the nation’s best men’s tennis program. He traveled to all of the state’s 159 counties  in the 1950s and 60s to build a successful network of Georgia Bulldog Clubs. He had a Rolodex that would make the president of a Fortune 500 company green with envy. Nobody knew more people of influence — and could get them to cut a check — than Dan Magill. He was a networking genius before anybody knew what networking was.

When I got to Georgia in 1974 with a silly dream of being a sports writer, one of my first stops was to see Dan Magill. When it came to Georgia and its history and tradition, he was walking and talking encyclopedia. I called on him often. He was always positive and encouraging.

As my career progressed, I would occasionally get hand-written notes from Coach Magill about something I had written. When I got to the AJC in 1984, which was my dream, he sent a note of congratulations and told me to come see him. I did.

In 2011 we had a wonderful lunch in Athens where I asked him to write the foreword to my book “Always A Bulldog.” He accepted and ended the foreword with this: “No matter where we travel or where we live or what we accomplish, our hearts will always be in Athens at the University of Georgia. They were the best years of our lives. Trust me on this. I’m 90 and every day I’m at Georgia is another great day.”

I tried to pick up the check, but he wouldn’t let me. He was still the teacher. I was still the student.

Consider this: Dan Magill was eight years old when Georgia’s Sanford Stadium was dedicated in 1929 with a game against Yale. He showed up at the new stadium wearing the football uniform he got for Christmas, only to find that the game had already started. He ran to the press box to find this father.

“Daddy! Daddy! They’ve already started,” he wrote. “They’ve already chosen up sides.”

The University of Georgia has never had a more loyal or worthy son than Daniel Hamilton Magill, Jr. Those of us whose lives he touched will be forever grateful. We will miss him dearly.

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