UNIVERSITY PARK - Thirty-two years ago, at the mere age of 27, St. Francis made Dave Magarity the nation's youngest Division I basketball coach.
Today, Magarity's players say, "he's really like a Grandpa to us."
Magarity, who coached the Red Flash from 1978-83 and has since made several stops, returned to the region Wednesday as head women's coach at Army, which took on the Penn State Lady Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Army coach Dave Magarity gives instructions from the bench Wednesday night against Penn State.
"I am the ultimate survivor," Magarity, 60, said with a smile over the pre-game music and the echoes of the basketballs hitting the floor in the empty arena 90 minutes before the opening tip. "I'm just like a bad cold - I keep coming back."
He keeps coming back because he's loved the game, and it's loved him back.
After his St. Francis tenure, he spent three seasons as an assistant at Iona and 18 as Marist's head coach. He was out of coaching for two seasons before joining Maggie Dixon's staff at Army, and he took over as head coach in 2006 following Dixon's sudden death at age 28.
Recruiting for Army with our nation at war easily matches the biggest challenge of his career.
"I love it, but it wears on you," he said. "When [Barack] Obama got elected, people thought things would change. They haven't. These kids will all be deployed, and they'll all be on the ground. That's the difference between us and Navy and the Air Force."
His players have early morning West Point obligations before breakfast and classes that start by 7:30. At many schools, players can come to the gym for mid-morning shooting. Not at Army, which Forbes Magazine recently rated as the nation's No. 1 academic institution, ahead of the likes of Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
"It's very competitive academically, and they have so much going on in their lives," Magarity said of his players. "By the time I get them, they've had about a full day in."
Magarity spent the last four seasons alongside his daughter Maureen, who has become Marist's head coach.
"I miss her," he said. "That's been a big adjustment for me."
Nonetheless, he appreciates the opportunity. He and his wife, Rita, live in a home provided by West Point, a perk offered to all university coaches.
"I'm happy to finish it [career] off here," he said. "It's a great atmosphere, and they appreciate what you do."
Army senior and top player Erin Anthony of Parkland High School said the team looks up to Magarity. She's the one who said, "he's like a Grandpa to us. He'll go crazy on the court, and he's given us some memorable talks. He's a father figure."
Magarity, 75-54 at Army and an even 388-388 for his career after Wednesday night's game, is never too far from his St. Francis roots.
John Porta, a 1969 graduate of St. Francis, has been working on Penn State's scorer's table for many years. He and Magarity shared a laugh about the Flash's win over PSU at Rec Hall in 1978 - Magarity's first year.
"I don't think [then PSU coach] Dick Harter was too happy," Magarity said. "He didn't shake hands with me after the game."
Wednesday morning, longtime friends Ed DeChellis and Danny Earl of the PSU staff stopped by for a visit, and earlier this season, Magarity met up with his former boss at St. Francis, Pete Lonergan, who is now the head coach at Division III Medaille.
Lonergan convinced Magarity to schedule a game last month and couldn't hold back a sideline laugh with seven minutes to go and Medaille trailing by just 3 points.
"He had just beaten the No. 5 [D-III] team in the country," Magarity said. "Being in the men's game for 33 years, I miss those relationships. I'm not quite as invested in the women's game."
But it keeps him going, and he came here for the financial guarantee and a chance for Anthony and Parkland teammate Laura Baranek to play an in-state game.
The Black Knights hung tough in the first half before falling, 95-65.
"I thought this would be a great venue to play in," Magarity said. "I just didn't know they [Penn State] would be this good."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com. His first year at the Mirror was Dave Magarity's first year at St. Francis.