Backdoor Cuts is a weekly college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh that occasionally touches on relevant subjects. This week the guys riff on an underappreciated legend from outside the ranks of high-major college hoops.
DAVE ZEITLIN: If there’s one thing I know about you guys, it’s that you love upsets. Well, if you need your fill, you don’t have to wait until March Madness. One of the greatest upsets of all-time is going to unfold next week, and hardly anyone is talking about it. Bob Knight, one of the most recognized coaches in the world, will soon be passed as the NCAA all-time wins leader by Herb Magee, a man who probably wouldn’t even be recognized in his own city. On Saturday, the 68-year-old Magee, who coaches at Division II Philadelphia University, won his 900th career game. He now has 901 and should surpass Knight’s 902 wins as early as next week.
Of course, some might say that coaching at the Division II level is a whole different ballgame. And it is. But that’s what makes Magee’s story so unique. He’s passed up many offers to coach at a higher level for weird reasons like not wanting to uproot his family and avoiding sleazy hanger-ons. Check out this line from a 2006 Sports Illustrated story: “Magee’s aversion to change means that he’s passed up incalculable amounts of money. But by staying at Philadelphia U, he’s also passed up recruiting wars, street agents, glad-handing, boosters, call-in shows, reality-deprived expectations, nonstop travel and websites devoted to his firing.” Here’s another gem from the same piece:
John Nash, a longtime NBA executive and childhood friend, once called Magee late at night asking why he wasn’t more interested in ascending the ladder.
“What are you doing right now, John?” Magee asked.
“Watching film,” said Nash.
“Me too,” Magee responded. “Mine’s called Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Now let’s think about the man he is going to pass. While Knight should be commended for always running a clean program, let’s be honest: he’s a bully. I’m sure he’s a fun guy to be around if you crack his inner circle, but it’s hard for any writer to like a man who consistently chastises the media (even though he’s now joined it) and once said, “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” (As if writing a column for Rush the Court isn’t the GREATEST thing.) Magee, on the other hand, has always been gracious with the very few media members he talks to, even as he conducts interviews in the hallway between his small gym and smaller office.
Now let’s think about the number for a second. 900. Look at the man. He looks like he could run a marathon with two basketballs tied to his back. I bet Magee, who’s nickamed the “Shot Doctor” (which, I must add, is a lot more tolerable than “The General”) would beat Bob Knight one-on-one, 11-0, blindfolded. (Magee scored over 2,000 points in college and was selected in the NBA draft; Knight was a reserve at Ohio State.) Are the comparisons between these two fair? Probably not. And I’ve been told the two coaches have great respect for each other, with Magee once buying a $2 pamphlet called “Let’s Play Defense” from Knight when the two were younger — which has techniques that he still uses today.
Still, if you like upsets … if you like nice people more than mean people … if you like cute puppies more than this … then you should root for Magee to set the NCAA record. And since I doubt either of you two “Division I fans” know much about Magee, I’ll open the floor. Let’s hear some other underappreciated stories, places of people in the world of college basketball. And no, the St. Joes’ Hawk flapping its wings for an entire game doesn’t count.
MIKE WALSH: I pass …
Frankly, nothing I could come up even holds a candle to Magee, and this achievement is so noteworthy that I don’t think we have even begun to scratch the surface. And, I’m always down for a little Bobby Knight bashing, although my wife’s Indiana-based side of the family might disown me.