Loran Smith: We should all raise a glass to Dan Magill

n Dan Magill’s day, tennis was considered a minor sport.

All sports except football and men’s basketball in those times were pushed to the minor category.

Magill enjoyed all sports and was always up for football in late summer.

Many times, we would be having a beer at our favorite watering hole in Five Points and he would toast, “King Football.”

He loved and appreciated the game that attracted the most attention and underwrote the budget for all competition. Nonetheless, he was an advocate of every intercollegiate sport and would tell you in a millisecond that his tennis players “worked every bit as hard as the (unprintable) football team.”

No coach ever supported and stood up more for his team than Magill.

I can remember a discipline issue regarding the late McWhorter Hall when some of the football coaches, keen on curfew and order during football season, told Magill that some of his tennis players needed to tone down their nighttime habits.

“Dan, we are going to have to whip your tennis players’ (butts),” they said.

With that Magill, whose temperature began to boil, stuck out his jaw and said, “You’re going to have to whip mine first.”

A man, bent on reaching his goals, can be driven by passion. He can be driven by commitment, but it would be hard for me to believe any man ever had an equal dose of passion and commitment comparable to Magill.

As the NCAA tennis tournament moved forward to the finals this week, I thought of Magill and his lonely journey to make Georgia the best tennis program in the country.

I saw him make it happen.

He was forever pulling himself up by his bootstraps. There was no significant money in the budget for tennis, but there was a hard core group of faculty members who appreciated tennis. Their financial resources might have been limited, but they formed a support group which brought about volunteer assistance in running the program. Faculty respect is a good thing with any activity.

With his football affiliation and running of the Bulldog Clubs, he lured substantial friends to support Bulldog tennis. I was with him the day he asked Lindsey Hopkins, the Atlanta sportsman and Georgia graduate to build the indoor tennis center.

Over lunch at the Capital City Club, I had the notion, at the outset, that while Lindsey was very fond of Magill, he was not too keen on underwriting the cost of the building. By the time we were ordering desert, Dan had closed the deal.

It was at this point when it became graphically clear as to why Magill got so many things done for Georgia tennis. He was asking for help for the University of Georgia. Not for himself. That is what set him apart. He never wanted anything but the best for his alma mater. Friends, who saw his deep and abiding love of the University, were eager to pitch in.

Joel Eaves, the athletic director who came aboard at a time when athletics were awash in red ink, agreed to expand the stadium when Dan was successful in bringing the NCAA championships to Athens in the seventies. Mostly, it was Magill’s savvy salesmanship that added all the trimmings and features which would make the complex, which was deservedly named for him, the best in the country.

It was actress Kim Basinger who gave him the lights for Henry Feild Stadium. Kenny and Marianne Rogers underwrote the cost of building the tennis hall of fame which was a signature development. Magill passionately wanted the college tennis hall of fame on the Georgia campus.

On one of those night’s at Harry’s, Dan said, with all the punch and insight that forever sprinkled his conversations, “We want to make Athens, Georgia the Mecca of tennis.”

That he succeeded in his objective means that we should all pause this week at some point and raise a mighty toast in his honor.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald.

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