The Loss of Two Legends
This week the coaching profession lost two legends. Jud Heathcote and Rollie Massimino were what I like to call, ‘coaches coaches’. Both coaches not only coached their teams, but coached their coaches. Both were innovative and tremendous teachers. Both were demanding, however, as demanding as they were they were both passionate and compassionate. Both coached in an era where coaches personalities were larger than life and they were two of biggest personalities. With all of these qualities, it is no surprise both coached two of the biggest games in modern day College Basketball. Coach Massimino in the upset of Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas and Jud Heathcote in the famed Magic v. Bird Championship classic.
Coach Massimino and Coach Heathcote were demanding and coached their teams extremely hard, yet their players truly loved them for it. If you talk to a former player for either coach, what you would hear is how these men learned lessons of life, as well as basketball. That their coach challenged them to be the best they could be and would not let them compromise.
“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.” — Magic Johnson
Each and every player under these men walked away from their experience with a respect for the game, respect for their teammates and the tools necessary for success. In a time where some coaches are afraid to hold their players accountable, and the early recruiting process has created a culture of entitlement and expectation, it is nice to be reminded and reflect on the early, simpler days of College Basketball.
Jud Heathcote was followed by former assistant Tom Izzo. Under Tom, the Michigan State program continued to flourish, earning multiple Final Four births and winning a National Championship in Jud Heathcote’s image. Villanova also hired two former Villanova assistants post Coach Massimino. First Steve Lappas, followed by current coach Jay Wright. Both have embraced the Villanova family mentality that Massimino established and share concepts and philosophies that began with Coach Mass.
“The Nova Nation has lost a legend and great leader. Coach’s love of family, community, and teamwork were evident in every game his teams ever played. All of us, as coaches and players, idolized Coach Mass. He inspired and impacted all of our lives. He never stopped being a cherished mentor and friend.” — Jay Wright
Jay Wright, Steve Lappas and Tom Izzo never fail to recognize and appreciate the opportunities and lessons they learned from their mentors. I have been in Jay Wright’s and Tom Izzo’s office when they received calls from their mentors, and I can tell you those conversations were special. I have sat with Jud Heathcote at a Michigan State NCAA Tournament game and saw first hand the pride Coach Heathcote had in his pupil. Two years ago we had Rollie Massimino on our set prior to the championship game and he was like a proud father beaming about his son’s professional success.
Although Coach Heathcote left East Lansing to retirement, he stayed connected to Coach Izzo and his adopted team, Gonzaga, under Mark Few. Coach Mass’ love for the game never waned, whether it was UNLV, Cleveland State or Keiser. He loved being in the gym, teaching, coaching and changing lives. He had the same passion on that stage as he had leading Villanova to a National Championship.
This is a sad week for the coaching profession. Not only do we need to pay respect to these legends, but also continue to share and teach the lessons they taught us to the next generation, as Coach Mass and Coach Heathcote would have wanted.