EAST LANSING – Legendary Michigan State basketball coach Jud Heathcote, who guided the Magic Johnson-led team to the national championship in 1979, died Monday in Spokane, Wash., at age 90. Heathcote battled a number of ailments that that kept him from returning to East Lansing in his later years.
With Johnson as the star, the Spartans beat Larry Bird and Indiana State 75-64 in a classic NCAA championship game matchup in Salt Lake City. It is still the highest-rated college basketball game in television history.
Heathcote led Michigan State to 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and three Big Ten titles during his 19 years as coach.
Overall, Heathcote compiled a 416-277 record for a .600 winning percentage during his college career. The North Dakota native was the head coach at Montana before coming to Michigan State, where he went 339-221.
Current Spartans coach Tom Izzo was hired by Heathcote as an assistant and succeeded him 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.”
Izzo frequently called upon Heathcote for advice after he became a head coach. Michigan State won its second NCAA basketball title in 2000 under Izzo.
“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.”
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said, “Coach Heathcote had an impact on so many people. He was among the best teachers I had the opportunity to be around.
Johnson honored the memory of Jud Heathcote, a day after his former collegiate coach at Michigan State passed away .
“My college Coach Jud Heathcote will be missed so much. He was a great man & basketball coach who truly cared about me on & off the court,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “At MSU he pushed me in the classroom & coached me hard on the basketball court. I love him so much because he pushed me to be great.
“As a defensive coach known for perfecting the match up zone, we were always prepared for our opponent. He made us NCAA champions in 1979!
“Coach Heathcote made me a better person, player, and champion. He turned a young kid into a man. Thank you so much for all you did for me.”