Herb Magee: It Takes a Greater Man Than a Coach To Win 902 Games

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IFebruary 23, 2010

Most coaches will ultimately be judged on the amount of wins and losses they procure during a lifetime of hardship and jubilation. Philadelphia University's Herb Magee could be recognized as the greatest men's college basketball coach because he's close to winning his record 903rd basketball game while only losing 352.

The 67-year-old Magee won nearly 72 percent of the contests in which he stalked the sideline during the 43 years and counting that encompass his career.

But that's not why his former players, coaches, and the people he's been around consider him one of the greatest influences they've had in their lives. It's the nearly 100 percent of the four-year student-athletes who walked onto the Philadelphia University campus to gain an education and play basketball for Magee and then left with a diploma and the life skills to be successful on and off the hardwood.

"It's about building relationships with players," longtime assistant coach Dick DeLaney said. "I saw Herb do that and tried to do that myself. It's not a program unless you build and mold your players in every aspect of their college careers on the court, off of it, and in the classroom. You must take an interest in their lives."

DeLaney coached alongside Magee from 1978 to 1987 before leaving to take the helm of his own program at nearby West Chester University. For 21 years, DeLaney built the WCU program much like Magee built the basketball program at what was formerly known as the Philadelphia Textile School. 

In the summer of 2009, DeLaney returned to Magee's staff to find the only thing that changed at Philadelphia University was the name of school.

Magee still tirelessly works with his student-athletes in order to help them become better players, but more importantly better men.

"When we recruit a kid, we make sure he can be successful academically," Magee said. "We look at everything about him, how he interacts with his teammates, his coaches, the opposing players, the fans, and even the referees."

Magee rarely misses on a player.

"I can count three, maybe four guys we've had to dismiss from the program because they didn't want to commit to their teammates and their university. I'd like to think I've been good at evaluating personalities."

Magee hasn't had to be just a great appraiser of player talent. With four assistant coaches who only get paid enough to cover the cost of driving to and from school, Magee needs men who are willing to devote a similar level of passion and intensity to his players.

His assistant coaches ultimately must be men who want to learn how to teach young student-athletes because coaching alongside Magee is usually only a stepping stone to much great accomplishments.

Two of Magee's former right hand men, Steve Donahue and Billy Lange, are fighting for titles in Division I's Ivy and Patriot Leagues. Another former player, Patrick Chambers, left his spot as a Villanova assistant to take the reins at Boston University, and the Terriers are in the thick of a battle to win the America East crown.

While at Philadelphia Textile, Chambers became the school's all-time leader in assists. He played for Magee in the early 1990s during an era when coaches didn't have the pressure to produce immediately.

Chambers now coaches in a time when that mentality is long gone, but he says he's equipped to handle the win-now philosophy because of the skills he learned from Magee.

"That's the great challenge of this generation. It's the generation of now. Everyone wants a great player now. It takes time and work ethic. If you don't put in the time, you won't reap the benefits. Coach Magee put that work ethic and discipline in me and I instill that in my players."

While Chambers will be coaching for his own championship this season, Magee will be doing the same. For Magee, winning this season is more important than the 880 wins he accumulated in his previous 42 years coaching. And when next season starts, the 20-some games he'll win will be more important than 900-plus he'll enter the 2010 season with.

"Our goal every year is to win the conference and make the NCAA Tournament," Magee said prior to his 902nd victory. "We want to challenge ourselves against the best teams in the country. That's how you will tell where your program really is. I'll reflect on the 902 wins well after the season is over."

Each victory this year is one step closer toward Magee winning his second national title and first since 1970. At the time, it seemed like the next title would come quickly.

"I remember I made a statement when I won it because we won by 27, 17, 48, 16, and 11 points.  I remember saying, 'Boy that was pretty easy. We'll probably do that a lot.' "

Now every victory is tough, as the level of competition in Division II has increased significantly. Despite winning 21 games already, Magee needed a buzzer beater from his freshman guard Jim Connolly to defeat a 10-win Post University team for his 902nd victory.

That win tied Magee with legendary Division I coach Bobby Knight for the most wins in NCAA men's basketball history. Magee's first shot to pass Knight comes against a former assistant and the only team to beat Philadelphia University in conference play this season.

After spending time on Magee's staff, Chuck Hammond took over at Goldey-Beacom College and quickly turned a one-win team into a conference contender. Now Hammond stands between Magee and win 903, but more importantly to Magee, a conference title.

As Magee makes his final push towards 903, it's necessary to remember that while his success has been a reflection of his great character, Magee is also a basketball mastermind.

He dominated at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia alongside former Philadelphia 76ers coach Jim Lynam and St. Joe's coach Jim Boyle. His smooth shooting stroke elevated him to the status of All-American at Philadelphia Textile and the school's all-time leading scorer.

The Boston Celtics drafted Magee in the 1963 draft, but a hand injury kept him from competing for a spot in the Celtics' backcourt, which already included John Havlichek, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, and Frank Ramsey.

Magee moved onto coaching and developed a reputation for fixing players' shots. He became known as the "Shot Doc" and has helped many NBA players, including Charles Barkley and Jameer Nelson. Magee's advice for Barkley was so good that Barkley once somewhat jokingly asked Magee to fix his golf swing because Magee also coached Philadelphia U's golf team during his 43 years at the school.

With Magee approaching a healthy 70 years, the age old question of Magee's retirement actually doesn't need to be asked.

"The only thing that will ever stop me from coaching is my health. If there's anything else, I'll know immediately. When the fun is out of it, when I don't look forward to practice or the recruiting process, or when it becomes a drudgery, I'll hang it up because that's the fair thing to do for the kids. It's been one season to the next and all of a sudden it's been 43 years, but it's been the same each year."

To Chambers, health will never be the reason that knocks Magee out, "He's got a great outlook on life. He looks like he's 35 while I look like 72 and I've only coached one season!"

So as Herb Magee leads Philadelphia University into the second decade of the 21st Century, he will continue to win games, tinker with the shots of current NBA stars, and maybe someday work the hitch out of Charles Barkley's golf swing.

And who knows, maybe Magee will still be winning ball games when the clock strikes midnight for the final time of this decade. Magee will only be 78. If Pennsylvania's own Joe Paterno can coach into his 80s, why can't Magee?

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