Jud Heathcote, former head coach for the Michigan State basketball program, has passed away at the age of 90. Jud roamed the sideline for 19 years as leader of the Spartans, from 1976 until 1995. From 1983 on, one of his assistants was current Spartans head coach, Tom Izzo.
“The basketball world is a sadder place today with the passing of Jud Heathcote,” Izzo said in a statement. “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.”
Heathcote's coaching career began at West Valley High School in Spokane, Washington in 1950. After 14 years in Spokane, Jud became an assistant at Washington State University before getting his first college head coaching job at the University of Montana in 1971. He coached there for five years, leading Montana to back-to-back Big Sky regular season championships and to the NCAA Tournament in 1974.
Two years later he would take the helm at MSU and lead the Spartans to nine NCAA tournaments in his 19 years as head coach. His brightest moment was winning the 1979 National Championship with Earvin “Magic” Johnson as his floor general. That '79 team will always stand out, as it was the winning half of the most watched college basketball game ever and helped propel the NCAA Tournament into what it is today. Having Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird kind of has that effect on basketball. Jud had great teams after the National Championship, making the Sweet 16 four times in his career.
After his retirement in 1995, Heathcote returned to Spokane, Washington, where you could always spot him at Gonzaga home games, where he built a bond with Zags head coach Mark Few.
“Coach Heathcote has had an impact on so many people,” said Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis. “For me, he was among the best teachers I had the opportunity to be around. Reflecting on my career and life, Jud was among the most influential people in regards to my preparation for both. He will be missed, yet his memory will be seen through the many different people he impacted.”
Jud Heathcote, 1927-2017.