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Women’s college basketball coaching clash provides ultimate #GirlDad moment

January 10th, 2021

Even for a family as competitive as hers, Holy Cross women’s basketball coach Maureen Magarity was stumped at first trying to recall if she had ever faced off against her dad, Dave Magarity. Then it came to her.

“You know the beanbag thing?” said Maureen, laughing about a cornhole game. “A couple of years ago at somebody’s birthday party, my dad and I got into it. I remember thinking, ‘We’ve never really played one-on-one in anything else like this.'”

On Saturday, the stakes were higher, as their teams met head-to-head in what The Associated Press reported to be the first father-daughter Division I college basketball coaching matchup. Dave, whose coaching career includes both the men’s and women’s games and dates to 1974, and his Army Black Knights lost 80-46 against Maureen’s Crusaders, who notched their first win of the season. They play again Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+) in another Patriot League matchup.

In men’s college basketball, fathers have coached against sons at least 18 times, according to the AP, with Rick Pitino (then at Louisville) facing son Richard Pitino (Minnesota) in 2014 as one recent high-profile example.

Heading into the weekend, Maureen, 39, said her family, including brother David Jr. and sister Katie, were getting a kick out of the national recognition the matchup is getting. Maureen’s mom and Dave’s wife, Rita, was a bit more stressed about it.

“She’s a nervous wreck,” said Dave, chuckling. “I’ve been saying that if I beat our daughter’s team, I’m not sure I’ll get back in my house. But seriously, my wife has been unbelievable with everything you go through in supporting a coach — first with me, and then with Maureen too.”

Dave, who will turn 71 this month, is a rarity in that he has had long careers in both men’s and women’s basketball. He and La Salle’s Speedy Morris are the only coaches to take teams to both NCAA tournaments. Dave is 261-175 in his 15th season with Army’s women. He was 313-334 in 23 seasons as a men’s head coach, first at his alma mater, St. Francis (Pennsylvania), and then at Marist. Center Rik Smits, who would go on to a 12-year NBA career with the Pacers, was his star player with the Red Foxes.

Some of Maureen’s earliest memories are of being at basketball games, and she recalls the emotional ups and downs of being a coach’s kid, rooting so hard for her dad’s teams. When she was a little older, they had time to talk basketball during long drives from Poughkeepsie, New York, where Marist is located, into Queens for Maureen’s club team practices and games.

“Now that I have two kids myself, I think, ‘How did he do it?'” said Maureen, mom to daughters Charlotte, 8, and Caroline, who’ll be 5 this month. “He’s a Division I coach, and driving me to the city twice a week, and traveling all over the place for his job. He made sacrifices so I could have a great experience, which helped me get to where I am today.”

Maureen started her college playing career at Boston College. She loved it there, but injuries hampered her and she decided to transfer to Marist, where David Jr. would play for their dad. As it happened, Maureen’s high school coach, Brian Giorgis, would then be hired at Marist, which made the NCAA tournament in her senior year in 2004.

Near the end of Maureen’s playing career, Dave said, he realized she would be a coach.

“I saw her do stuff behind the scenes, just handle situations,” Dave said. “I thought, ‘She’s got a great understanding of things.’ It’s part of her DNA and her background, but that was when I first felt, ‘She’d be pretty good at this.'”

Maureen grasped the depth of commitment a coach has to make to the job by watching her dad. But Dave gave her the warts-and-all lowdown, and she appreciated that.

“My dad doesn’t sugarcoat things,” Maureen said. “He’ll be brutally honest. If my team has a bad game and he’s watching, he’ll say, ‘What were you thinking there?’ And we’ll talk it through, which is great.”

Dave was in athletic administration for a couple of years after his time at Marist ended in 2004. Then he got the call to be an assistant to Maggie Dixon in her first year with Army’s women’s team in 2005-06, which was a magical season. The Black Knights won the Patriot League tournament title 69-68 over Holy Cross, with the championship game played at Army. The cadets took Dixon on a joyous victory ride on their shoulders as they celebrated the school’s first bid to the NCAA tournament on either the men’s or women’s side.

Just a month later, Dixon — sister of then-Pittsburgh men’s coach Jamie Dixon — died from heart complications at age 28. It was a tragic blow to her family, Army and the women’s basketball community, which saw her as a rising star after just one season as a head coach. The Maggie Dixon Award now annually honors the top rookie head coach in women’s basketball.

Dave had intended to leave for the NBA after one season at Army, and Dixon had already tapped Maureen, who was coaching at Marist, to replace him. Instead, Dave became head coach of a grieving program, and he credits Maureen’s help as an assistant.

“She was a blessing for me when I took over after Maggie passed away,” Dave said. “I’d been a men’s head coach for 23 years, but an assistant with the women for just one year. I said to the team, ‘You all think I’m a big likable teddy bear, but that’s not me as a head coach. I’m going to be in your face more.’ Maureen has a different delivery at times, a really good way with people.”

“I saw her do stuff behind the scenes, just handle situations. I thought, ‘She’s got a great understanding of things.’ It’s part of her DNA and her background, but that was when I first felt, ‘She’d be pretty good at this.'”

Dave Magarity, on realizing toward the end of Maureen’s playing career that she’d be a coach

Dave had run girls’ basketball camps even back during his time as men’s coach at St. Francis in the 1970s. And he was friends with many women’s coaches, including Cathy Rush of three-time AIAW champion Immaculata. His sisters Anne and Rosemary played at La Salle and Villanova, respectively, and his niece Regan Magarity finished her Virginia Tech career in 2019. (Regan’s father and Dave’s brother, Bill, played at Georgia and then professionally overseas.)

Dave sees no differences in coaching men and women. He thinks coaching the West Point women, who have a commitment far beyond basketball, has turned out to be an especially good fit for him.

Maureen took over at New Hampshire as a head coach in 2010, and she representers reaching out to Dave that first season as she navigated the difference in responsibility from being an assistant.

“He’d be the first person I’d call,” she said. “Like, ‘Dad, what do I do? We can’t break the zone.’ And as the years went by, I learned and got a lot more confident. I do still call him sometimes, but he’s done a great job in instilling that confidence in me.”

Maureen wasn’t looking to move from New Hampshire after 10 seasons, but then the Holy Cross job opened up. Dave encouraged her to go, even though that meant they would be in the same conference and would have to face each other.

After Saturday’s historic meeting, Army is 4-4. Holy Cross, like much of the Patriot League, just started competition in January and is 1-2. Both coaches say they have similar styles and philosophies.

“One thing is for sure: Nobody will know them better than they know each other,” Texas women’s coach Vic Schaefer said. “The scouting reports will be very thorough.”

Schaefer’s daughter, Blair, played for him at Mississippi State and is now director of basketball operations for him at Texas. Her goal is to become a head coach, and Schaefer said he can’t imagine having to play against her.

“It would be really special, but it might be agonizing at the same time,” Schaefer said. “You’d be rooting for her, but you have your main obligation to your own team. But I’m sure Dave is incredibly proud. He’s watched his daughter blossom and learn. You know, they grow up, but they’re always your kid, and they keep growing as a fellow professional.”

The Magaritys have scrimmaged against each other for years, so it won’t be completely foreign to be on opposite benches. Plus, Maureen said the matchup will become very familiar during the course of this season, as they’ll play twice more in February.

“By then, it will be like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re playing Dad again,'” she said.

But this weekend will be a memorable celebration for a basketball family and their two programs. Maureen even got a little revenge for that “beanbag” competition, which she acknowledges her dad won.

“I am who I am as a coach because I learned so much from him,” Maureen said, while also praising her mom for all the support she’s given. “I know I can call or text my dad anytime, because he’s always awake, to pick his brain or just to vent. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have him every step of the way.”

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