This story is featured in today's TimesFreePress newscast.
David Blackburn's first big decision as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director was a bold one. Blackburn announced via Twitter around noon Thursday - it was his first tweet ever - that former Vanderbilt and Ohio State coach Jim Foster had been hired as the new women's basketball coach at UTC.
"We spent a lot of time on it, worked hard and we are so excited and glad that we got Coach Foster," said Blackburn, who has done little else but work on hiring men's and women's basketball coaches since he was introduced as the new athletic director on April 23.
A men's coach is expected to be hired in the next few days. Foster will be officially introduced at a noon reception today at the University Center.
The 64-year-old Foster has 783 career wins in his 35 years coaching and will be inducted into the women's basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville next month.
"We made sure we sold what we had as a school, athletic department, women's basketball program and as a town -- that was a big part of it, too," Blackburn said. "We were fortunate that he was out there and still wanted to coach. He's got a fire in his belly."
Foster replaces Wes Moore, who left UTC last month after 15 seasons to become the head coach at North Carolina State.
"I think it's an unbelievably strong hire," Moore said. "It's a home run."
Foster spent the past 11 seasons at Ohio State, where he compiled a record of 279-82, with 10 seasons of at least 21 wins and 10 trips to the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes went 18-13 this season and missed the NCAAs. Foster, a four-time Big Ten coach of the year, and OSU parted ways in March.
"They wanted to go in another direction," said Foster, who has missed the NCAA tournament just three times since the 1984-85 season.
Blackburn said there was mutual interest between UTC and Foster once the search began. Foster already had an affinity for Chattanooga. He won two Southeastern Conference tournament titles at McKenzie Arena, in 1993 and '95, during his 11-year run as Vanderbilt's coach. His record at the Roundhouse is 11-5.
Foster and his wife, Donna, "continued to go down [to Chattanooga] even after the tournament left," he said. "We'd stay at a little bed and breakfast over there in the arts area."
After leaving Ohio State, Foster said he determined that he wasn't ready to retire from coaching, and UTC was an ideal place to continue his career.
"I know that I love being in the gym with players, and the more I talked to my former players, the more convinced I became that that was a good idea," he said.
Foster will be taking over a program that won 12 Southern Conference titles and made nine NCAA tournament appearances in Moore's 15 seasons. It's not easy to replace someone so successful, Foster said, but there are many benefits as well.
"When you walk into a gym where players are used to winning and have a certain commitment towards that objective, that's a little easier than walking in and having to change a mindset," he said.
Foster said Thursday afternoon that he already had talked via phone to most of the returning players and signees. The Lady Mocs are still like Moore's children -- UTC swept the SoCon regular-season and tournament titles this season and tied a school record with 29 wins -- and Moore said he was happy and relieved to know they were in good hands.
"To know they're going to be coached and mentored by such a quality person makes me feel really good," he said.
Along with a career coaching record of 783-307, Foster has been to a Final Four, four Elite Eights and six Sweet 16s. He's also one of only two college coaches, in men's or women's basketball, to win at least 200 games at each of three schools.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.