Iconic basketball coach Jud Heathcote, who led Michigan State to its first national championship in 1979, has died, Michigan State announced tonight.

Heathcote, who was 90, has lived in Spokane, Wash., since he retired and turned the reins over to his self-named protegee, Tom Izzo, in 1995.

“Michigan State has lost one of its icons today,” Izzo said in a statement. “And yet, nothing can erase his impact on the program, the players he coached and the coaches he mentored. Spartan basketball is what it is today because of Jud Heathcote.”

Heathcote had a 339-221 record at MSU from 1976 until he retired in 1995, including 181-16 in Big Ten games and three conference championships. He directed the Spartans to nine NCAA tournaments in his 19 seasons, including the school’s first basketball national title and a spot in the regional final in 1978 with Magic Johnson, a recruit from Lansing who helped form the groundwork of Heathcote’s program.

“Coach Heathcote has had an impact on so many people,” said athletic director Mark Hollis, who served as a student manager for Heathcote in the 1980s. “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.”

A Washington State alum and a native of Harvey, North Dakota, Heathcote was 419-274 in his career that included a five-year stop at Montana, before arriving in East Lansing to replace Gus Ganakas for the 1976-77 season.

Heathcote had been battling a number of physical ailments in recent years that prevented him from traveling to East Lansing and the Final Four, where his parties in retirement had become as legendary as his coaching career.

“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.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!