Jeff Judkins begins his 15th season as Brigham Young University coach this year as the most winning coach in school history. During his tenure, the Cougars have been to the NCAA Tournament seven times and the WNIT four times, including two trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 round. Judkins has coached six All-Americans and five conference players of the year.
He played at the University of Utah, where he helped guide the Utes to a conference championship and two NCAA Tournament berths. He graduated in 1978 with a degree in physical and health education. Judkins went on to play in the NBA, for the Boston Celtics, Portland Trailblazers, Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz. Judkins returned to his alma mater in 1989, after his professional career was over, and served as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team for 10 years.
Judkins and his wife Mary Kaye are the parents of five children, and have four grandchildren.
Sue Favor: You played professionally for many years and you coached the Utah men for a decade before coming to BYU to become the women’s head coach. How did that change come about?
Jeff Judkins: I was lucky enough to play professionally, and I played until I got tired of it. Coaching the Utah men, we went to Final Four once, as well as the Elite 8. I had got to the point where I needed a change, so I went down to BYU because I didn’t want to move out of Utah. I got involved as director of operations, and after two years the women’s Athletics Director offered me the job as the women’s head coach. I thought it was a great opportunity, and I thought I’d do it for a couple of years and then I’d move back to the men’s side. It’s been a good thing and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve had great players over the years; the girls work hard. The only bad part is that you don’t get the press. I tell the kids to work hard and be a student athlete. Of course women’s basketball has really jumped in 15 years – there are better coaches and the players are more athletic.
Sue Favor: Coaching men and coaching women are two completely different endeavors, but you’ve been successful at both. How have you been able to do that?
Jeff Judkins: A good coach knows who he’s coaching and who’s on his team, and men are a bit different. There are different ways to motivate them. With boys, you don’t have to explain stuff, but with girls you have to explain why you’re doing things. Coaching women has made me a better coach. Girls are way more into talking and communicating, while boys want to get it on and get it over with. I’ve had to change. I’ve had three daughters who’ve played high school sports, so that’s also helped me. I’ve had some consistent women assistant coaches who have helped me with some o the issues I’ve had to deal with. It hasn’t been that big of an adjustment. It’s not harder to coach women – there are just more distractions on the men’s side. Guys want to play in NBA. Girls know they need to focus on education. I’ve only had two girls not graduate in my program. I’ve been very fortunate to have had good players.
Sue Favor: NBA basketball is viewed by many fans as the gold standard of the sport. You played in the league in the late 70’s and 80’s. How does the NBA then compare to the NBA of today?
Jeff Judkins: The NBA then was the real NBA, in my opinion. Magic, Kareem, played basketball the way it’s supposed to be played: ball movement, an in-and-out game. Most of them had a real love for the game, and it wasn’t about money. Larry Bird made $750,000 a year, and now that’s not a minimum salary. Most athletes played for a love of the game. Now it’s more of a one-on-one game instead of team ball. You see a few teams like the Spurs and Warriors where it’s more of a teamwork situation, but those are the exceptions. I was real lucky to have played against some really good players back then.
The NBA isn’t what it used to be; it’s really sad.
Sue Favor: How has your many years of experience as a college and professional player helped you in coaching?
Jeff Judkins: I’ve played for some really good coaches, and that taught me. I plaued for jack ramsey, he was a great coach, probably the best nba coach I’d play for. Learned a lot form him; he let players have a say. I try to do the same with my players.
Sue Favor: You’ve been tremendously successful at BYU, from your first year. In 14 years, your teams have failed to advance to postseason play only three times. How have you been able to accomplish that?
Jeff Judkins: I’ve had good players who are willing to buy into my system, I have had great assistant coaches who have helped me recruit who I need, and who have been able to help me with coaching the X’s and O’s. I’ve got a great university that lets me recruit the kids I want with a tight budget, and allows me to find good people that can fit into our system. I have had really good family support. They understand that during season, they kind of had to take a back seat. We’ve had a few bad injuries, but for the most part I’ve been lucky and had a good healthy team.
Sue Favor: What’s the best thing about coaching at BYU?
Jeff Judkins: Coaching first-class young ladies that play basketball hard, go to school and don’t get in trouble. We have an honor code, and they live it. Working with young ladies where I’m not just the coach, but am a good father figure to them. Young ladies who I really have a good time with. I really enjoy going the road with them – we really have a good time.
Sue Favor: When do you want to retire?
Jeff Judkins: Probably when I stop enjoying it and loving practice.
Sue Favor: What’s your overall goal for the program?
Jeff Judkins: My goal is still to make it to the Final Four and win the championship. We’ve come close in the past, but we’ve run into UConn and Tennessee, and it hurt. But that’s still our goal.
Sue Favor: Is there a particular game or a basketball season that stands out in your mind as being special?
Jeff Judkins: My first team that I took to the Sweet 16 was probably one of the most well-coached teams I’ve had. They really listened and executed well. The most talented team was the Jen (Jennifer Hamson) Baileyu (Morgan Bailey) Lexi (Eaton) team of 2014. The team I’ve had the last two years is really talented, really balanced. I’ve had teams that are physical, and some that are quick.
Sue Favor: What is the most important thing that you teach your players when they come to BYU?
Jeff Judkins: Learn how to work hard, and go for what you want. Don’t’ be afraid of failure – go for it. Respect your opponent, respect people you deal with at your job. Don’t take things for granted.