Our ritual of having a beer a couple of times a week became a challenge because of travel. Sometimes, I just couldn’t keep from being out of town on Monday, the day Dan Magill preferred to enjoy a late afternoon libation at our favorite watering hole in Five Points.
In recent years, we met at the 5&10. He really liked Hugh Acheson, the chef and owner, but he was troubled by the cost of a beer. It was incumbent of me, his protégé to find a solution.
As a college student in the late 1950s and 60s, I was always hungry and thirsty. When Dan took the Atlanta sportswriters to the same location, which then operated under the name of “Harry’s,” he always included me. He always got the check. He knew I could not afford a few beers and a barbecue pork pig sandwich, his long-standing menu selection.
For years, Dan didn’t want to socialize anywhere but Harry’s which predated the 5&10. There was conflict with his emotions when Acheson established his fine restaurant. It was home for Dan, but he could not abide paying $7.00 for a beer.
“I used to buy two (unprintable) cases for that,” he said.
So a deal was struck. I would pay for the beer, and he would get the tip. In the beginning, we met at least twice a week. Then it became once a week as his age kept creeping up in years. Then it became occasional. When we began, he drank three beers, then two, then one. Then that depressing day came. None. My heart was breaking. I loved this man like I loved my own father.
As I organize my thoughts, I laugh and I cry.
He made me laugh from the time we had that first beer when I was a student assistant in his office to the last one in December of 2012. I am crying now because of Georgia’s great loss. Dan was informal, easygoing, lovable — sometimes temperamental — colorful, and unforgettable. He had a gift for making people feel good in his presence. He made you want to be around him. When you began a conversation with him, you never wanted it to end.
I have two degrees. One from the Grady College of Journalism and the other via life lessons I learned at Harry’s from Dan.
One of those evenings when he was relaxed and given to reflection, he, a man devoid of ego, but motivated by enormous pride, revealed inner thoughts I have never forgotten. He wanted me to pursue a fulltime sports writing career. I asked him why he had given up such a career.
“Because I wanted to live in Athens and promote the University of Georgia,” he said.
I said that I would like to do that, too. In the conversation that continued, I realized that he could have excelled at anything. He could have been a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer with his insight and depth of knowledge and perceptive communication skills. He could have been a successful politician. After all, in 1954 when he organized the Bulldog clubs in every county in Georgia — from Tallapoosa to Hahira; from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light — he was in touch with people on a personal basis that would have boded well for him at the polls.
In office, he would have been an orator and statesman, whose command of the language, humorous insight, and poignant delivery, would have made him the South’s best since Henry Grady.
He was not driven by an appetite for money, he just wanted to be comfortable — a couple beers and a barbecue sandwich along. Or, a few victories in tennis, washed down by a Coca-Cola in the small 6.5-ounce bottle. Yet, the Dan Magill Tennis Complex stands as a tribute to man with more intangibles than any Bulldog personality I have ever known.
As the Secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club, he kept spirits high when performance on the field was low.
Spirits were never lower than in the 50s when Georgia Tech defeated the Bulldogs eight years in a row — a time when his favorite team was the victim of hard luck. Like in 1954 when Georgia pushed Tech all over a muddy field in Sanford Stadium, but lost 7-3.
Dan kept Bulldog spirits from flagging. He would find something positive to reinforce love of alma mater. He put out a weekly newsletter called “The Georgia Bulldog”. Georgia supporters, in that pre-media era, couldn’t wait for Dan’s insightful news of the last game, even when the Bulldogs were vanquished on the field. He wrote it dotand- dash style. Short takes, lots of notes and tidbits, a forerunner of the concept that has served USA Today so well.
As a sports information director, he was an innovator and leader. He produced posters with photos of players and the Bulldogs schedule for their hometowns. He wrote so well that when he sent a news release, newspapers across the state ran it verbatim. Even the Atlanta newspapers, which often piqued his ire, used releases as he sent them.
For years, Dan felt there was an intentional slight with Georgia when it came to what was written about the football team. Proud Georgia had no money and times were hard. The Bulldogs were struggling, and Tech was riding high. One day, Dan called Jim Minter, a Georgia alumnus with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Minter got this rebuke from Dan.
“If captain Bobby Garrard dropped dead of a heart attack today, the headline in the Atlanta papers would read, ‘Bobby Garrard Quits Georgia.’” As tennis coach, Magill had no peer. He saw to it that the newspapers got the news of every Georgia match. In the beginning of his tenure as coach, he had no scholarships. He recruited, as he did everything, by applying the personal touch.
He ran the Athens city tournament. He promoted his Crackerland tennis tournament. He saw who was competitive and worthy, who had promise. He would sell the positives of Georgia, and players like Pierre Howard would even give up scholarship opportunity at other schools to play for Dan. Pierre had committed to Davidson until Dan talked him in to changing his plans. Dan’s first volley when they met in his office in old Stegeman Hall was, “Do you know there are no girls at Davidson?”
“He changed my mind,” Pierre said. “And that changed my life. That is why he is so beloved. He changed everybody’s life.”
His players often played over their heads because they did not want to let Dan down. No coach has ever been more revered by his players. He managed his relationships with his players so skillfully there were times when he would have a beer with them. He could let down his guard without losing their respect because he, regardless of any social encounter, demanded discipline and respect at the tennis court.
No coach ever gave more of himself than Dan. His body of work has brought him deserved and appropriate recognition, but the honors were never a motivation. He truly wanted the best for the university.
The classic example came when he stepped aside to let Manuel Diaz succeed him as tennis coach in 1988. At age 63, Dan still had some good years left. He was winning championships and Georgia tennis was good, but he knew that Manuel was ready to be a head coach. He knew some other school would make an offer Manuel could not refuse. So, Dan took early retirement from coaching because he did not want Manuel to leave Georgia. Manny’s subsequent success is proof that Dan was right.
The Latin term alma mater means “nourishing mother.” Dan certainly believed that his alma mater nourished him, and no man ever sought to give back to his nourishing mother more than Daniel Hamilton Magill Jr., the greatest and grandest Bulldog there ever was.
Loran Smith is the executive secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club and former sideline reporter for the Georgia football team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org