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Santoliquito: Ultimate Hall-of-Famer Magee ready for last go-around

11/08/2021, 7:45pm EST
By Joseph Santoliquito

Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2021-22 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 9. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)


Herb Magee (above) is heading into his 54th and final season at Henry Ave. and School House Lane. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The cacophony of bouncing basketballs and squeaking sneakers have been a symphony to Herb Magee for over half a century. Magee is about to begin his 54th season as coach at Thomas Jefferson University (previously Philadelphia University, after it was Philadelphia Textile).

This season will be just like the first 53. It will be about attention to detail, down to the very second from moving from one drill to another. It will involve in-depth film study. And it will also be tinged with a touch of bittersweet emotion, because, finally, after all of these years, this will be Magee’s last.

He leaves a legacy that will be untouched.

Over the course of 53 seasons, Magee’s teams posted a 1,123-444 record (.717 winning percentage), placing him second all-time in NCAA victories trailing only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (1,170), who also will retire after the upcoming season. Magee is also the only basketball coach to have achieved that many wins all at his alma mater.

In 1970, Magee, who turned 80 in June, led then-Philadelphia Textile to the College Division National Championship, now Division II, and has had 27 seasons with 20 or more wins (and one 30-win season), coached 12 All-Americans and 36 players who scored 1,000 or more point, achieved 31 NCAA Tournament appearances and won 13 CACC conference championships.

In 2011, Magee was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, giving him a total of six hall of fames, along with enshrinement in the West Catholic High School Hall of Fame, Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame (1979), Philadelphia University Athletics Hall of Fame (1984), Philadelphia Area Small College Basketball Hall of Fame (2002) and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame (2008).

What Magee did above everything else was touch lives—through basketball—putting him in the People Hall of Fame.

No one today does anything for 10 years. Magee has coached for 53—and did it well.

“I feel great, I’m just retiring now because it’s time,” said Magee, who will be succeeded by longtime assistant Jimmy Reilly, part of Magee’s staff since 2007, announced by the school in September when Magee retired. “Time just goes by. Ten years becomes 20, and 20 then 40 years, and 40 then becomes 50.

“Last year, we opted out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and during that time, I spent a lot of time thinking about the time to go. I wanted to make sure Jim Reilly got my job, so I spoke to the administration. He’s a great basketball man. I’m leaving in good hands.

“It’s just time. I’ve been asked a thousand times why this year, why this year. I decided to pull the trigger. What I’ll miss the most are the practices, because that’s the time I got to teach.”

You can’t go to a local basketball camp or anything involving the Philadelphia basketball community where Magee’s name is not invariably brought up. Magee, known colloquially as “The Shot Doctor,” will continue to hold his shooting camps, but this season is it as far as coaching.

His humility doesn’t allow him to reach back and see how he’s impacted lives.

Magee deserves to be on the pantheon of basketball life teachers, with the legendary John Chaney and Speedy Morris. Magee’s impact goes well beyond just teaching players how to shoot.

Many people in the sports and business worlds are successful at what they do. But they don’t like what they do. Magee has managed to merge his deep-rooted passion for basketball with success.

“I caught a break when I first graduated, with my coach at Textile, a great coach, Bucky Harris, and I remember talking to him toward the end of my senior year about coaching,” Magee recalled. “He told me to see him tomorrow and he went to the president of Philadelphia Textile. He came back the next day to tell me I was the assistant basketball coach, and I was going to teach physical education, be the junior varsity basketball coach, coach the cross-country team and coach the tennis coach, and eventually coach the golf team.

“I told him I would sign right there. When I first started coaching as an assistant, I had my own junior varsity team, which was a big help for me. We played Big Five freshmen teams, which don’t exist anymore, and we beat them. I did that for four years. But that told me I could do it.”

Magee did it for a grand total of $5,000 a year in the beginning.  

Money didn’t matter. What he loved did. Magee feels his work ethic was instilled at a very young age. His parents died when he was around 12, separated by a year’s time. He was raised by his maternal uncle, a Catholic priest, Father Edwin Gallagher, the chaplain at Eastern State Penitentiary during the 1950’s.

Father Gallagher, too, died young. Though he did get a chance to see Herb star for the great West Catholic teams of the late-1950s with his pals, Jimmy Lynam and Jimmy Boyle, and at Textile.

“You move on, you do what you have to do, and can’t look back, you just keep moving forward,” Magee said. “Father Gallagher was something. He was a special man. He stressed work ethic and getting the job done. He stressed accountability and Father Gallagher was such a disciplined man, being a Catholic priest, he instilled that in us.

“We did exactly what he said. He told us what to do and it worked. We did it. You had no choice.”  

Just like you had no choice if you were late to one of Magee’s practices.

Consequences would be paid.

Andre Gibbs (above) started at point guard for Magee from 2012-17. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Andre Gibbs is a 2017 Philadelphia University graduate and a former star point guard for Magee. A starter for Magee from 2012-2017, Gibbs is currently an assistant women’s coach for Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina. Gibbs embraced Magee’s attention to detail, especially on offense, attributable to Magee’s comprehensive film study.

Gibbs, 27, still laughs about the time he came to practice five minutes late. Magee was furious. Strident about time, Magee pares everything down to the second.

“I remember the time I was five minutes late for practice and I remember jogging the entire length of practice, and at the time, I didn’t realize the consequence of what I did,” Gibbs said. “Coach Magee is a stickler, too, of molding young men beyond basketball. If you say that you’re going to do something, you better do it.

“I didn’t realize that if you’re late in the real world, you lose your job, it impacts your family and being able to feed your family. All of that. His discipline on and off the court, that’s what I will take with me from Coach Magee. He’s always going to be Coach Magee to me for life.”

Magee and Reilly allowed players to develop their own culture, and Gibbs stressed how Magee saw something deeper in the players he recruited.

“The first thing that will resonate with me through Coach Magee is how prepared we were, and he really made sure he knew everything an opposing team threw at you,” Gibbs said. “I felt prepared for every game I went into. With me starting to coach, and hoping to have longevity coaching, I want my players to be prepared the same way.”

T.J. Huggins, a 2016 Philadelphia University graduate, was a two-year starter for Magee. Huggins, 27, noted that Magee always held a high standard, no matter what position you played or your status on the team. He never minced words. His players respected his candor.

Huggins is a financial consultant in the Washington, D.C., area with a graduate degree from Philadelphia University. When Huggins describes his time with Magee, the operative word that echoes is “family.” But if it wasn’t for Magee’s high demands, Huggins says he might not be in the position he is in today as a supervisor.

When Gibbs was hurt, Magee moved Huggins to the point in his senior year. The problem was the 6-foot-4 Huggins was the Rams’ power forward.

“I was transitioning to point guard, and I could never be as good as Andre, but Coach Magee’s expectations never dropped,” Huggins recalled. “In real life, demanding the most of yourself and the people around you, you never drop your expectations.

“I had already transitioned to point guard, and I remember one practice, Coach Magee had me at center. I started laughing and Coach Magee asked me what the hell I was laughing about. He let me know that if our center went down, I would be play center.

“In my mind, I told him, I went from the ‘four,’ to the ‘one,’ to the ‘five.’ What I learned is that if Coach Magee didn’t trust me and didn’t have such high demands for me, he wouldn’t have asked me to play three different positions.”

Huggins said he plans to be there for Magee’s last game, whenever and wherever that may be. Like many of his former players. Huggins said the way Magee and his daughter, Kay Magee, treated his family, meant everything to those who played for him.

Will there be a large enough arena for Magee’s past players planning to be there for his final game?

“I think they may have to rent out Lincoln Financial Field for that,” Huggins said. “That’s the only place in the Philadelphia area that I can think of that can hold that many people. I’ll definitely be there for that. Above everything, Herb’s love for the game of basketball is like no other.

“Times have changed, Herb hasn’t.”

As his 35-minute interview was winding down in October, Magee said at almost the precise moment the second hand hit 12 that the interview reached 35 minutes.

“I appreciate the time, but sorry, I gotta go,” he said. “Practice is about to start.”

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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