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Jud Heathcote, who coached Michigan State to NCAA title, dies at 90

29 Aug 2017

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

The school says Heathcote died Monday in Spokane, Washington.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo was hired by Heathcote and was promoted to replace him when he retired in 1995.

Heathcote won three Big Ten titles and appeared in nine NCAA tournaments during his 19-year career at Michigan State. He got his start as a college head coach in 1971 at Montana, where he spent five seasons.

Heathcote's teams made a combined 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including the Spartans squad that won it all in 1978-79.

Izzo said the basketball world is a sadder place because of his mentor's death, adding no one cared more about the welfare of the game than Heathcote.

"He was a coach's coach and a mentor to many," said Izzo. "Our hearts are filled with sadness and deepest sympathy for his wife Beverly and the Heathcote family."

Izzo helped the Spartans win their second NCAA basketball title in 2000 and 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. 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."

After he left coaching and moved to Spokane, Heathcote embraced the luxuries of retirement.

He enjoyed golf -- he lived across the street from his county club -- at some of the area's top courses. He also played handball with a group of friends -- postgame beers were common -- until his mid-70s, when his health began to fade.

He said he needed time to grow comfortable with the adjustment.

"The first couple years [of retirement], I'd go to games and I'd sit there and second-guess the coaches on why they were doing this or weren't doing this," he told ESPN in 2014. "I think it was kind of a hard transition."

But he also remained tied to the coaching fraternity.

For years, he had a monthly lunch date with Gonzaga coach Mark Few at Jack & Dan's, a Spokane bar formerly owned by Jack Stockton, the father of? Utah Jazz?legend John Stockton.

Throughout his retirement, Heathcote attended the bulk of Gonzaga's home games and watched Michigan State's matchups on TV. Heathcote said Izzo allowed him to remain connected to the program, even when he was challenged by his successor.

"I was always a good Monday morning quarterback in football and basketball," Heathcote said three years ago. "I'd sit there and second-guess Tom, naturally. We talked every week during the first couple of years [of retirement]. Ever since then, I probably talk to him every two weeks now. Tom has kept me involved in the program. He calls and asks my opinion on what we're doing. I'm still kind of a Spartan coach far removed."

Three years ago, Heathcote also told ESPN that retirement hadn't diminished his passion for basketball.

"It's different," Heathcote said of his retirement. "I don't think you ever take the coaching out of the coach. I think you adjust to your situation and that's what, maybe, I've done."

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.

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