PROVO — Jeff Judkins can't help but look at Utah interim men's head basketball coach Kerry Rupp and sometimes imagine himself in that spot.
"Yeah, I think about it," said Judkins, the BYU women's basketball coach who for a decade was a U. assistant like Rupp to since-departed head coach Rick Majerus. "I would have liked that — it would have been a fun opportunity."
Yes, Judkins has thought about that and a lot of other things — the current Utah vacancy, the half-dozen job offers he's fielded the past few years and the fact that he's five seasons removed from full-time coaching in a collegiate men's program.
And the more he thinks about things, the less he worries.
"I'm very happy where I'm at," he said, content as much with the position of coach as the location at BYU. "What it comes down to is that I'm a coach, and I want to coach at a great university, and I want to coach players that I've recruited."
After the former Highland High star earned all-conference honors his final three years playing at Utah and followed that with a five-year stint in the NBA, Judkins spent several years with a local glass company before mutual acquaintances helped him get hired by Majerus in the latter's inaugural U. season in 1989, the first of 10 seasons together.
Initially a part-time assistant, Judkins eventually worked his way to a full-time spot, credited with aiding Utah's successes in instate recruiting. Judkins was never in a position to step in for an ailing Majerus when health concerns forced the head coach to take sabbaticals on three different occasions.
In Majerus' first season, Judkins was a first-year part-timer, so the task fell to U. assistant Joe Cravens, now the head coach at Weber. The other times assistants Dick Hunsaker (currently coaching at Utah Valley State College) and Rupp subbed for Majerus came after Judkins had departed Utah for instate rival BYU.
"It got to a point where I just wanted to be a head coach — somewhere in the West," Judkins said. "A lot of things didn't work out. I didn't get my break."
Part of what didn't work out was the decadelong working relationship with Majerus that ultimately deteriorated, with the U. coach set in 1999 to swap Judkins' role from top assistant coach to director of basketball operations, an administrative position away from the sideline and coaching.
He instead took a similar position on Steve Cleveland's men's staff at BYU, starting his current five-year residency with the Cougars.
"I really sacrificed a lot of things up there in 10 years, not just on the on the court but off the court," he said. "But I really think it was worth it."
Judkins says he left Utah — including the team and U. athletic director Chris Hill — on positive terms, maintaining close ties with fellow Ute assistants like Cravens and Donnie Daniels. Not so much so, however, with his former mentor, who fired a parting shot or two in broadcast interviews after Judkins sought and accepted the BYU job.
"We've not communicated since I've left," he said of Majerus. "I've tried, but he's kind of ignored me."
Swapping red and white for blue and white made for a divided allegiance for Judkins between his playing and coaching at his alma mater and basketball employment and subsequent coaching opportunities at BYU. His family is almost as spread as his loyalties, given that two children still attend the U. and a third is a freshman on BYU's women's volleyball team.
After his first year as BYU's director of basketball operations, he added the role of women's assistant coach his second year and then became the head coach three seasons ago. The result was an appreciated diversity of duties, working in both the men's and women's programs and in both coaching and administration.
In his first season at the helm with the BYU women, he guided the Cougars to the NCAA Sweet 16, back in top-flight tournament action similar to the multiple Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four appearances with the Utah men when he was assisting Majerus.
The Cougars returned to the NCAA Tournament last year for a first-round cameo with a team that struggled with injuries and outside distractions. This year, the Cougars have just plain struggled, unable to close out league games despite being picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference.
"I know I'm a better coach now than I was two years ago getting to the Sweet 16," he said, adding that his goal in coaching is to "recruit my kind of kids and get a chance to get back to the Final Four again, as a head coach."
In recent years, Judkins has turned down a half-dozen different job offers — men's and women's, as head coach and assistant. They included a men's assistant position "at a big-time program and a good women's job" as head coach of a prominent program.
"I always try to keep my options open, but I don't want to move all over the country," he added. "But if there's an opportunity, I'd look at it."
That includes a return to the men's game.
It's no secret he would relish the chance to be Majerus' successor at Utah, although he's realistic enough to understand the obstacles in his way.
First, Hill has a hiring reputation as Utah AD of bringing in bound-for-success newcomers a la Majerus or U. football coach Urban Meyer. Second, Judkins departed not just for any other school but for the Utes' most bitter rival, which certainly didn't endear him to many of the U. faithful. Also, several seasons have passed since Judkins — known for his expertise in relating to and recruiting local talent — has been involved in the men's side of the sport.
"There's no question that the further you get away from it, it's harder," he said of relating to young male recruits. "I played in the pros in the early '80s, and none of these kids nowadays remember me because they weren't even born yet.
"But recruiting is recruiting. If you're a good recruiter and you have a certain way you recruit, you can recruit women to men to almost anything. It's college, it's basketball."
Admittedly, there are differences in coaching men versus women, with the men boasting more ease of play, speed and athleticism. "In women's ball, you have to break it down a lot more. It's made me a lot better coach. it's made me see things," Judkins said.
"I enjoy coaching," he added. "I'm coaching as hard as if I was coaching a men's team or any other team. I'm just like anybody else, trying to do the best job they can do."