Jim Foster had spent more than half his life coaching women’s college basketball.
He had just turned 30 in 1978 when he left Bishop McDevitt High School to take over the women’s program at St. Joseph’s University. Over the next 40 years, Foster went on to become one of the most successful and influential coaches in women’s basketball history.
On Tuesday, Foster announced his retirement, finishing his storied career after his fifth season at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
With stints at St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, and Chattanooga, Foster, 69, posted a 903-347 record. He coached teams to 30 NCAA tournaments and two Women’s National Invitational Tournaments.
Foster made his lone Final Four appearance in 1993 with Vanderbilt. He is the only coach to take four schools to the NCAA tournament and be ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
A 2013 inductee into the Women’s College Basketball Hall of Fame, Foster said it was time for him to devote his time to his wife, Donna.
“It’s time for her,” said Foster, who noted that the recent death of former Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter, 68, also influenced his decision. “When we started dating, I was making $1,250 a year coaching high school.
“Then I got the St. Joe’s job and they paid me $3,000. They told me they were going to make me full time, but you’ve also got to coach softball and your salary will be $10,000. [Donna] was sort of hanging with me.”
Foster said his wife simply said “OK” each time they moved when he took a new job.
“It’s time for her to say where she wants to move and what she wants to do,” Jim Foster said. “It’s a two-way street.”
Foster’s coaching tree includes current St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin, who played for him as a senior on his final team on Hawk Hill in 1991, plus NCAA-championship coaches Geno Auriemma (Connecticut) and Muffet McGraw (Notre Dame), two of his former assistants at St. Joe’s.
Foster got his first college win on Dec. 5, 1978, over Delaware. His last win came against Samford on Feb. 24.
“What an amazing career he’s had, from a part-time coach at the start to 900 wins, to the national coach of the year and competing at the highest level, both in college and with USA Basketball,” soon-to-retire St. Joseph’s athletic director Don DiJulia said. “Jim Foster is obviously one of the most respected coaches and clinicians in the last 40 years and he has made a tremendous impact on the game.
“Even more amazing is the positive effect he’s had on his players. When we named our women’s basketball coaches’ office in Hagan Arena in his honor, we had dozens and dozens of players return. That was a true measure of the impact he has made on many. “