The all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history had big plans for the night he stepped into the record books.
“I’m going to make my wife stay up and tell me how great I am,’’ Herb Magee said as he drove home. “She’ll be begging me to let her go to sleep.’’
That’s vintage Magee: wise-cracking and understated to the core.
When his Philadelphia University team topped Goldey-Beacom, 76-65 on Tuesday night, nudging Magee past Bob Knight with win No. 903, he officially became the most successful men's coach in NCAA basketball history.
He’s long been the happiest.
Magee came to Philly U. as a student 50 years ago (when it was Philadelphia Textile) and never left. Never tilted at a windmill, never sniffed out greener pastures.
Opportunities came, and Magee, the head coach since 1967, considered every one.
“Nothing ever seemed better to me,’’ Magee said. “And every year when I go to the coaches’ convention, everyone tells me the same thing – ‘you did the right thing.’ They know I’m a pretty happy guy. I’ve got a good life.’’
Magee could care less about how many games he’s won, how many NCAA tournaments he's been in (24) or how many national championships (one). He’d rather tell you about the guys he coached or who split the $7,000 as his assistants and went on to become head coaches in their own right – Billy Lange at Navy, Steve Donahue at Cornell, Pat Chambers at Boston University, Sean Kearney at Holy Corss and Chuck Hammond at Goldey-Beacom, his foe for win No. 903, who was Magee’s manager for four years.
He fretted this game against Goldney-Beacom, not because he wanted the record, but because he wanted to put the attention to bed. Temple coach Fran Dunphy was in the house. Villanova coach Jay Wright stopped by, too.
“I knew all the reporters and TV guys would be here,’’ he said. “If you lose, we play again on Saturday but those people aren’t all coming back. Press conferences don’t usually happen at Philadelphia University.’’
Perhaps there ought to be one more.
For reasons that remain as inexplicably mysterious as the process itself, Magee hasn’t been invited to the Hall of Fame.
A revered shot doctor as well as a coach (he once tried to teach Charles Barkley how to shoot free throws. If that doesn’t merit a call to the Hall, what does?), Magee’s success lies in his loyalty as much as his victories. In a fickle business, Magee has remained true: true to his school, true to his players and true to the integrity of the game.
And now he has the marker to set him apart. Northern State’s Don Meyer technically has more victories, with 922, but some of his came at the NAIA level. Magee, like Knight, spent his entire career at an NCAA university.
Besides that minor distinction won’t last long. Meyer announced this week that he will retire at season’s end.
He’s going to chug along for No. 904 on Saturday and has no plans on quitting anytime soon. Is 1,000 in the cards?
“I’m not going any place, so why not?’’ he said. “I might as well keep going. It sure beats the alternative.’’