Coach helped Earvin “Magic” Johnson become a superstar in guiding the Spartans to the 1979 NCAA Championship over Larry Bird and undefeated Indiana State
Late Monday night, ESPN along with CBS Sports and other media outlets were the first to mention a press release sent out by Michigan State University confirming that former veteran Head Coach Jud Heathcote died at the age of 90 in Spokane, Washington.
Prior to taking the Michigan State job in 1976, Heathcote spent five years tolling the sidelines at Montana compiling a modest 80-53 record. But it was the three times that the Spartans won the Big Ten regular season title gave him the most satisfaction. His overall record when he retired in 1995 was 419-274 (.605 winning percentage).
As most loyal fans know, Tom Izzo took over the program after spending 12 years as an assistant. Coach Izzo had nothing but true praise in a statement released by the school:
“The basketball world is a sadder place today with the passing of Jud Heathcote. No one cared more about the welfare of the game than Jud. He was a coach’s coach and a mentor to many….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.”
His greatest accomplishment was winning the 1979 national championship over then undefeated Larry Bird and Indiana State 75-64 in what NBC still claims the record for the highest rated college basketball game in history, at a whopping 28.1 rating.
After my parents were kind enough to let me watch the game on that Monday night of March 26, 1979, you just couldn’t help but smile during the initial post-game comments asked by then esteemed NBC Sports reporter Bryant Gumbel.
Playing against an uncertain backdrop when the United States was suffering through double digit inflation and at some places saw very long lines since gas supplies were running short, the final minute of play at the Jon Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah was simply pure “Magic” indeed:
Coach Heathcote will be missed, especially in the Big Ten Conference and the nation in general. Thank you for all of the memories, especially during that amazing 1978-79 winning season.
For more about the 1979 championship game, I highly recommend longtime CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis’ exhaustive 324 page account from 2009 simply titled: