Jim Foster hiring widely lauded (with video)

Jim Foster hiring widely lauded (with video)

May 11th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Jim Foster, the new UTC Lady Mocs basketball coach, speaks to supporters during an introductory ceremony on campus Friday. Foster was most recently the women's coach at Ohio State.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

Jim Foster scrolled through his text messages Friday, shortly after being introduced as the new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach.

Among the dozens received during the previous 24 hours, since it was announced that the 35-year veteran with 783 career wins was taking over for Wes Moore, were a congratulatory message from Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, one from Georgia coach Andy Landers, and on they went.

Auriemma, who has won eight national championships at UConn, started out as a Foster assistant coach at St. Joseph's. That was in the late 1970s, when Foster's college coaching career was just beginning. UTC, he indicated, will be the final stop.

"I didn't come here to leave," he said.

New athletic director David Blackburn's hiring of the 64-year-old Foster, already voted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, has been met with big praise from near and far. Even Dick Vitale tweeted about the choice.

"We felt it was important to hire someone that could certainly maintain where our program is at," Blackburn said at a reception in the University Center, "but we felt it even more important to hire someone that we thought could come in and move the program forward."

Moore, now at North Carolina State, won 12 Southern Conference titles during his 15 seasons at UTC. He led the Lady Mocs to the NCAA tournament nine times, beating Rutgers in the first round in 2005 for the program's only NCAA tournament win.

Foster, with lengthy and successful coaching stops at St. Joseph's, Vanderbilt and Ohio State, has a resume as long as Market Street. His teams have made it to the NCAA tournament in 26 of the past 29 seasons. He directed Vanderbilt to the 1993 Final Four and four Elite Eight appearances.

During the past 11 seasons, at Ohio State, Foster's teams won the Big Ten six times, had eight straight conference players of the year and went to the NCAAs 10 times.

After going 18-13 this season and missing the NCAA tournament, Ohio State parted ways with Foster. That was good news for UTC.

The search firm UTC hired to help fill its men's and women's coaching vacancies was Collegiate Sports Associates, which is run by Todd Turner -- who was the athletic director at Vanderbilt when Foster was coaching the Commodores (1991-2002).

Turner initially put UTC on Foster's radar after Moore left. He did so again after Blackburn was hired and the search went into high gear,

"He called back and said they're interested in talking to you," said Foster, who was interested in listening and interested in coaching.

Blackburn said Foster was one of several candidates interviewed.

Moore took assistants Nikki West and Mike Murray with him to N.C. State, while former Lady Moc Katie Burrows, a UTC assistant the past two seasons, stayed behind. Foster will keep Burrows on the staff.

"I can learn more from her in a couple of weeks than I probably could on my own in a year or two or three," he said.

What was Burrows' reaction when Blackburn told her that Foster was taking over the program?

"I said, 'Shut your mouth!" she recalled with a big laugh, adding, "I was really thrilled because I thought I get to learn under a Hall of Fame coach."

Before the hiring, signee Chelsey Shumpert, a shooting guard from Paducah Tilighman (Ky.) High School, was very anxious about what was happening at UTC. The hiring of Foster put her very much at ease.

"He's obviously a really good coach and I'm excited about meeting him and getting on the court with him," said Shumpert, one of six signees. "None of us knew what we were getting into, and I think this definitely relaxes us and makes us ready to go."

Foster said the only real challenge in taking over a program in May is putting together a staff.

"A lot of them have taken jobs, so you've got to get a little creative -- and I will do that," he said. "Katie makes it easy on the one hand with the familiarization here ... and I spent 11 years in Tennessee, so there's a frame of reference there."

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.