Georgia's Dan Magill Raised College Tennis to New Heights
By Ron Cioffi
In the crowded Georgia pro and college sports scene, one team reigns supreme: the University of Georgia Bulldogs. So, when the state’s dominant newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, declares someone the greatest Bulldog of them all, it is time to recognize a true legend of the Peach State.
That man was Dan Magill, whose fame came not from darting for touchdowns between the hedges of Sanford Stadium, but from building the most important college tennis program outside of California as well as the most impressive tennis center in the nation. When the 93-year-old Magill died in August, the story made page one, rare indeed for a college tennis coach.
Born and raised in Athens, home of UGA, Magill’s Bulldog loyalty was unwavering from the start. After serving as the baseball team’s batboy while in high school, he soon became a Bulldog himself, competing on the tennis and swim teams. Years later, he returned to Athens as UGA’s sports information director. As the university’s football team struggled in the 1950s, Magill began crisscrossing the state and developed a fundraising institution, the Georgia Bulldog Club. As treasurer, he built a strong financial foundation. That wouldn’t be the only thing he built in Athens.
In 1954, Magill began a 34-year coaching career that would set an intercollegiate tennis record of 706 wins, 183 losses — the most tennis victories in NCAA history at the time. His Bulldogs brought home two national titles along with a record-setting 13 SEC titles. Magill’s successor and current men’s tennis coach, Manny Diaz, continued the tradition and has hoisted the championship banner five more times.
Magill’s long list of honors include being inducted into the UGA Circle of Honor, the National Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame. He was the 1994 recipient of the prestigious Bill Hartman Award.
“What I remember most was his enthusiasm for college tennis,” Diaz says. “During the NCAA Championships, he sold out our facility. He created box seats. He drew in sorority and fraternity students. He really engaged our crowd. All of a sudden, it put Georgia on the map.”
Other longtime friends and colleagues noted his sense of humor and ability to connect one-to-one with people. Still, his legacy may best be remembered for something more concrete: a tennis facility. Having led the movement to make the NCAA Championships a team tournament, Magill had a keen sense that tennis would thrive with team competition, and that a great venue can build a great event.
Relying on fundraising skills honed in the ’50s, Magill worked to build the country’s most important tennis facility in the ’70s, a 17-court center that would host the NCAA Championships for 13 straight years and a commanding 27 of the last 38 years. In 1993, what had been a small, insular college event drew over 34,000 fans, thanks in part to UGA’s large student population and proximity to other Southern state schools.
Intercollegiate Tennis Association Executive Director David Benjamin says, “Dan was the single most important influence in the growth of college tennis. He was a strong proponent of having teams play against teams. That was very important in increasing the excitement level” at the NCAA Championships.
In 1983, Magill was instrumental in arranging a $200,000 donation for the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in Athens from Kenny Rogers and his then-wife, Marianne Gordon. In 1993, the complex Magill built was named in his honor.
John Isner, the highest-ranked Bulldog ever, fondly remembers his close relationship with Magill: “Coach Magill meant everything to college tennis. You ask any tennis coach — north, south, east and west. He made college tennis what it is today. He brought the NCAA tournament to Athens, which no one had ever seen before. When it comes back to Athens nowadays, it’s still the best atmosphere in college tennis.”
“Pioneers in Tennis,” an occasional column in Tennis Industry, draws attention to trailblazers in the sport. Have someone to suggest? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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