Herb Magee: The Real Best College Basketball Coach Ever

Mike Krzyzewski won his 900th career game on March 20, 2011 after his Duke Blue Devils defeated the Michigan Wolverines in the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament. Four days later in the Sweet Sixteen, the top-seeded Blue Devils were upset by Derrick Williams and the Arizona Wildcats.

Coach K will need three wins to pass his mentor and former coach at Army, Bob Knight, to become the all-time wins leader in the history of Division I men’s basketball.

Although 903 victories is a monumental milestone, it will still leave him almost two dozen wins behind the NCAA’s all-time leader.

Herb Magee.

Magee, the 2011 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, has amassed all 922 career victories in his 45-year tenure as head coach of his alma mater, Philadelphia University, a Division II school.

“It’s just incredible. It’s something I never gave any thought for years and years and years,” said Magee.

Although it seemed impossible for Magee, his enshrinement was expected by many in the basketball community for years.

Back in 1995, Magee and then University of Massachusetts head coach John Calipari were coaching the Olympic Festival team together. When Calipari introduced Magee to the team, he addressed him as a future Hall of Famer.

Magee was more skeptical than flattered of his newly given title.

“When we went out later I asked him where he came up with that and he said ‘You’re going to do it for sure, just keep going,'” said Magee.

St. Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli has for years announced Magee as a future inductee at many events they’ve attended together.

After constant talk of the Hall of Fame over the years, Magee admits “it gets on your mind.”

The real momentum came when Philadelphia University began to push for his Hall of Fame nomination. Even Magee’s daughter, Kay, began to research the Hall of Fame and the qualifications needed for enshrinement.

“To be nominated I thought was the highest honor I could probably have and then when John Doleva called me I was speechless, which is rare for me,” Magee says.

This experience for Magee seems almost surreal, considering his initial goal when he was playing basketball on the playgrounds of West Philadelphia…

While growing up, Magee’s sole mission when it came to basketball was to play for the prestigious West Philadelphia Catholic High School.

“If you made the team at West Catholic then you were a player,” said the Philadelphia native. “On the playgrounds and at the summer leagues you wanted to be recognized as a member of West Catholic.”

In his senior season, Magee and West Catholic won the Catholic League title. By then Magee had set his sights on aspiration: to play for Dr. Jack Ramsey at St. Joseph’s University.

The offer to play for St. Joe’s never came, but Magee was recruited by Philadelphia College of Textile and Sciences (renamed Philadelphia University in 1999).

“[Textile head coach] Bucky Harris was smart enough to realize in order to get me to go there he had to recruit my uncle and he did.”

Magee’s uncle, Rev. Edwin Gallagher, took in and raised Magee and his three brothers after Magee’s parents had both died by the time he was 12.

Harris did his job and sold Gallagher on Textile. One day Gallagher came home and told Magee he should play at Textile for Harris.

“Whatever he said, we did,” said Magee. “It didn’t matter what.

“The rest is history. I made the best decision of my life.”

Magee went on to have a tremendous career for the Textile Rams, becoming a two-time All-American. He still holds the school record for scoring average in a season: 29.1 points per game in the 1961-1962 campaign.

After graduating in 1963, Magee was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 62nd pick. Magee broke two fingers in his right hand, which he described as a “fortunate” event because he had to miss training camp.

“[They had] Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, and John Havlicek,” said Magee. “You’re not cracking that lineup.”

Besides being drafted by the Celtics, Magee was offered a position at Roman Haas, a chemical manufacturing company. Magee turned it down to stay involved in basketball.

Following graduation, he remained at Textile after the school’s president, Bert Hayward, created a position for him. Magee would have to be the golf, tennis, cross country and jayvee basketball coach, as well as a Phys. Ed teacher.

Within four years, Magee would take the reigns as head basketball coach. In 1970, just three years in his coaching career, he led the Rams to the National Championship.

As his coaching career progressed, Magee was offered Division I and NBA jobs, but declined them all to stay loyal to his alma mater.

“It wasn’t important for me to stay. It’s just that’s where I belong,” he said.

However, Magee is one of the premier shooting instructors and has worked with high profile NBA players over the years. Charles Barkley, Marcus Camby, Jameer Nelson, and most recently Evan Turner have all looked to Magee for guidance.

Magee, 70, has no intentions of ending his coaching career anytime soon.

“I like to play golf, but not every day,” joked Magee. “I enjoy the changes from season to season.”

Magee begins the 2011-2012 season only 78 wins away from 1,000 wins, a number he described simply as “nice.”

Magee has had a long journey to Springfield, Mass., but through it all one thing has remained: loyalty. Loyalty to his school, his city, and the game he loves.

What do you think? Should he be considered the best college coach ever?

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