Michael Arace commentary: Foster did it right, but OSU wants to join elite
Ohio State women’s basketball coach Jim Foster was fired yesterday. Or, to put it as delicately as the official statement, he will not return.
In a statement, athletic director Gene Smith said: “Jim Foster has meant so much to so many over his career. His work in mentoring young people on and off the court has been exceptional … ”
Also in a statement, executive associate athletic director Miechelle Willis said: “I have always had all the respect in the world for Jim’s basketball mind and commitment to the development of young women in his programs. His contributions to women’s basketball have been recognized nationally throughout his career … ”
Well, if you’re going to get fired, you might as well do it for being highly successful and a credit to your profession. That fairly describes Foster.
Foster compiled a 279-82 record in 11 seasons. He posted a winning percentage that is virtually identical to Thad Matta’s. His teams won a record six consecutive Big Ten championships from 2005 to ’10, won four conference tournament titles and made 10 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Among his recruits were three players — Jessica Davenport, Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis — who won eight Big Ten Player of the Year awards. Among his recruits were seven high-school All-Americans, seven WNBA draft picks (and counting) and three college All-Americans. Among his recruits were a legion of scholar-athletes recognized at the school, conference and national levels.
As it said in his official bio: “In addition to his players consistently earning high marks in the classroom, nearly every student-athlete who has played for Foster at St. Joe’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State has gone on to earn their degree. Most recently, the women’s basketball squad was honored once again with an APR (Academic Progress Rate) score in the top 10 percent of all Division I squads in the sport.”
Who is this guy who has won 783 games over 35 years of coaching women’s basketball, who has represented his country at the Junior World Championship, World Championship and Olympic level — not to mention three tours in Vietnam?
Get him out of here.
He is no good in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, that is the deal. Foster’s Buckeyes made the Sweet 16 three times, and it was not enough. More often, they were highly seeded upset victims in the early rounds. They did not make the field this year, and it was a bad year to miss: St. John Arena is one of the sub-
regional sites this week. Foster cost the school a payday.
Women’s basketball is among the most-expensive programs to run at a school. Women’s teams rarely make money — Connecticut even lost money during its 90-game winning streak — but there is enough potential revenue available to mitigate the costs. Foster was paid big money — his base salary last season was $525,000 — to generate interest locally, generate gate receipts and win high-stakes postseason games. His job was to shrink costs.
Few programs are good at this game. The top four seeds in this year’s tournament — Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford and UConn — are the same as the top four last year. They might be the same next year. Throw in Tennessee, Duke, North Carolina, Oklahoma and a couple of others, and you have the complete list of perennial contenders.
Foster’s former bosses want to join this club.
They want a coach who will inject some life into recruiting, especially in-state, as Ohio has a particularly talented class of high-school seniors coming out next year.
They would prefer a woman, it has been whispered, and they want her to re-energize a program that has gone stale. They want her to win, win, win, in March and in April, and they will pay her handsomely to do so.
Foster ran a clean program, won three-quarters of his games and graduated nearly 100 percent of his players. For good or ill, that was not enough.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.