To say that Dan Magill is a man who wears many hats is to say that Lon Chaney had a flair for disguises. In addition to serving as tennis coach at the University of Georgia, where he is playing host to this week's NCAA championships, Magill is also:
•Georgia's full-time public-relations man and for 27 years its sports information director, which means that when a press release comes out on the tennis team, you can be sure it meets with the approval of the tennis coach.
•Secretary of Georgia's athletic fund-raising organization. The Georgia Bulldog Club, and, therefore, a beleaguered Saturday evening telephone apologist whenever the football team loses a game.
•The self-proclaimed world's fastest two-finger typist (148 words per minute).
May 29, 1977
•A 10-time table tennis champion who once played a competitive point that lasted an hour and 58 minutes.
•The son of one of the first coeds to attend Georgia.
•The husband of Rosemary Magill, who earned a Phi Beta Kappa key at Georgia, which Magill sometimes wears on the road to fool people into thinking he's, well, a scholar.
•A balding, 56-year-old son of the Old South whose accent makes Billy Carter sound like a Yankee.
Magill's record at Georgia, 420-112, makes him the second-winningest tennis coach in the country behind Dale Lewis of the Miami Hurricanes. But it was Magill's plans for turning this year's national tournament into a real money-maker, not his down-home personality or stature in the college tennis world, that persuaded the NCAA to hold its championships in Athens. In fact, if the NCAA likes what it sees of Magill's new stadium—its 3,500 seats make it the largest outdoor college tennis facility in the country—it may become the semi-permanent site of the tournament.
When Magill and Athens staged the NCAAs in 1972, conditions were different. In the minds of most Georgians tennis was still a game for sissies. Football—Fran Tarkenton, Vince Dooley and all that—was the only sport that mattered. The old tennis facility seated just a few hundred and, after expenses, the 1972 NCAA tournament made exactly $52.06. Now, five years later, Magill has told the NCAA he hopes to gross as much as $60,000.
To get an idea of what is going on in Athens this week, consider what happened to Southern Cal when it came to town to dedicate the stadium three weeks ago. The Trojans, 12-time national champions, were ranked No. 4 in the coaches' poll and had beaten Georgia 6-3 at the Wisconsin Indoor Championships in February. The Bulldogs' newly rabid tennis fans were primed for revenge—and in more ways than one. They started to arrive around noon for the 3 p.m. matches, and to combat temperatures in the high 80s, they brought coolers of beer with them. Magill got on the loudspeaker beforehand and said, "The builder of our new stadium told me there are more than 40,000 nuts and bolts in the stands. Today I think there are 3,000 more nuts, fellow Bulldogs."
It was pretty bad material, compared to Magill's usual lively wit, but the fans ate it up. They cheered the visitors' mistakes like a WTT crowd, but when a Georgia player made a good shot they chanted "Damn Good Team" in unison, as they do on football Saturdays in Sanford Stadium. They also slurped down so much beer that the school paper ran an editorial suggesting that the students' performance would once again depict all Georgians, except those now in the White House, as "notoriously rednecked, truck-driving, Pabst-drinking Good Old Boys and Girls."
Wimbledon it was not. But the scene so inspired the Bulldogs that they rose up and beat USC 5-3. The upset dropped the Trojans to the No. 8 seed for the NCAAs, a notch below upstart Georgia. UCLA is the tournament favorite, but Trinity (Texas), Stanford, Miami of Florida and SMU are all capable of winning the team competition.
"With the home-court advantage, my boys could be a big surprise," says Magill. "They're not spectacular. We don't have any future pros, I don't believe. But they are solid. I teach them that good position on the court is most important, that they shouldn't be too eager to poach in doubles and that they should be good defensive players—the way I was in Ping-Pong."
Magill's marathon table tennis match took place in 1936 at an Athens YMCA where he spent the better part of his youth. Like most of the stories Magill tells about himself, this one could pass as a harmless piece of fiction if not for the documentation he provides. "If you want to check on the time of the point," he says, "just ask Dr. Milton Jarnagin, our referee. He was a Rhodes scholar. Ed Landau, now a lawyer, left the match with the score three-two and went to the movies. When he came back the score was still three-two. After nearly two hours of batting the ball back and forth, my opponent—Vernon Boatner—hit the end of the table with his shot. My return hit the net and fell backward, but I didn't hesitate a second even though I'd lost the point. I put the ball right back in play. It took us four days to complete the entire game, and I won 21-9. I don't recall it making the Guinness Book of World Records, but someone seems to remember seeing it in Ripley's."
Magill's players dearly love the man and gleefully recount various tales about him, including the allegation that he played college tennis at Georgia with his hand holding the racket way up near the throat, as though it were a Ping-Pong paddle.
"Coach is usually in great shape," says senior Tom von Dohlen, Georgia's No. 4 singles player. "But in the finals of the 50-and-over championships in Macon two years ago he was about to die after splitting the first two sets. He went to the fence and threw up for such a long time that his opponent walked off the court. Ten minutes later Coach comes back out muttering, 'All right, where are ya? I'm ready.' He won the third set and the match."
What with all his duties, Magill is often accused of running the university all by himself. This is only partly true. He is not the president of Georgia. He does, however, play tennis regularly with Dr. Fred C. Davison's executive assistant—just in case anything comes up that Magill can't handle.
"So far I've never had to ask for help," he says.
Now that's the kind of talk the NCAA likes to hear.