Former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote dies at 90

Jud Heathcote, who led Michigan State and Magic Johnson to the 1979 NCAA championship, has died. He was 90.

The school announced Heathcote died Monday in Spokane, Washington.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo was hired by Heathcote as a part-time assistant in 1983. With Heathcote’s support, Izzo was promoted to replace him when he retired in 1995.

“The basketball world is a sadder place today with the passing of Jud Heathcote,” Izzo said. “No one cared more about the welfare of the game than Jud. He was a coach’s coach and a mentor to many.

“Our hearts are filled with sadness and deepest sympathy for his wife Beverly and the Heathcote family. Michigan State has lost one of its icons today. And yet, nothing can erase his impact on the program, the players he coached and the coaches he mentored. Spartan basketball is what it is today because of Jud Heathcote.”

Heathcote won 340 games, three Big Ten titles and appeared in nine NCAA tournaments during his 19-year career at Michigan State.

He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 along with Johnson and Larry Bird, whose Indiana State team lost to the Heathcote-led Spartans in the 1979 final.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches gave Heathcote the Golden Anniversary Award for 50 years of service in 2001, when he was also inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame.

Heathcote got his start in 1971 as a head coach in college at Montana, where he had an 80-53 record and won two Big Sky titles.

Izzo, a Basketball Hall of Famer, helped the Spartans win their second NCAA men’s basketball title in 2000. He often leaned on Heathcote for advice, counsel and humor .

“Without a doubt, he was one of the most influential people in my life, giving me a chance when no one else would,” Izzo said. “Any coaching success I’ve ever had is because of him. Long after he left Michigan State, he was still one of the first people I would call when I had a tough decision in coaching or life.”

Izzo wasn’t alone.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who was a student manager for Heathcote, said he was one of his best teachers.

“Reflecting on my career and life, Jud was among the most influential people in regards to my preparation for both,” Hollis said. “He will be missed, yet his memory will be seen through the many different people he impacted.”

One of those people is South Florida coach Brian Gregory, who started his career as a graduate assistant for Heathcote and was promoted within the program before moving on to lead Dayton and Georgia Tech.

“For the first time since I was 25, I won’t get a birthday card from him and won’t get a call from him after a game and that really bums me out,” the 50-year-old Gregory said in a telephone interview Monday night.

“I’ll miss a lot of things, including his humor. It was almost a badge of honor if he ripped you because he was testing you. He was old school and that’s how he showed he cared, ripping you in some way that he thought could drive home a point to make you look at some part of your life.”

Heathcote had legendary gatherings with coaches on Friday afternoon — and sometimes evening — during Final Four weekend, for two-plus decades before health problems prevented him from traveling.

“It was known as ‘Jud’s party,’ and it became Final Four folklore,” Gregory said. “He’d get up in front of everyone and tell a bunch of jokes, holding court for high school, junior college and big-time coaches. They all came to see him. The younger coaches would just be in awe of how he could command a room with that many coaches in it.”

During Heathcote’s farewell tour during the 1994-95 season, many schools gave him a retirement gift. At Minnesota, he was presented with a stool such as the one coaches sat on the raised court at Williams Arena.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had three legs,” Heathcote joked.