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Foster eager to begin work at Chattanooga

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP)

Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn was initially surprised to discover he might have a chance to hire Jim Foster as his women's basketball coach.

It isn't very often a Hall of Fame coach with Final Four experience pursues a job at a mid-major program, even one that has reached nine NCAA tournaments over the last 13 seasons.

''I was (thinking), `This can't be right,' " Blackburn said.

It turned out Foster's interest was legitimate.

Foster was introduced Friday as the successor to Wes Moore, who left last month to take over North Carolina State's program. Foster brings a 783-307 record and 35 years of head coaching experience to Chattanooga.

The 64-year-old Foster will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame on June 8 at Knoxville, Tenn. The former St. Joseph's, Vanderbilt and Ohio State coach believes he's found the ideal place to cap his illustrious career.

''Chattanooga has always been a place we've been very fond of,'' Foster said. ''When this opportunity presented itself, I more than wanted to jump at it.''

Foster is familiar with the state of Tennessee from his experience at Vanderbilt, where he posted a 256-99 record from 1991-2002. Vanderbilt reached the 1993 Final Four and advanced to four other regional finals during his 11-year tenure, which included several Southeastern Conference tournament appearances in Chattanooga.

Foster also went 248-126 at St. Joseph's from 1978-91 and 279-82 at Ohio State from 2002-13. Foster and Rutgers women's coach C. Vivian Stringer are the only men's or women's coaches to win at least 200 games at three different schools.

Over the last 24 hours, Foster received congratulatory text messages from an all-star list of coaches that includes Connecticut's Geno Auriemma and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, who both previously worked for him as assistants.

Yet Ohio State fired him at the end of this past season after the Buckeyes went 18-13, the only time in Foster's 11 years they failed to win 20 games or reach the NCAA tournament. Foster downplayed the notion that the dismissal would re-energize him or give him a chip on his shoulder.

''I don't know if `re-energize' is the word,'' Foster said. ''I love competing. I love winning. I love being around young people. I love watching them grow. We won six conference championships (at Ohio State). We won 77 percent of our games. Our players graduated. ... The player of the year in the Big Ten was from Ohio State eight years in a row. I have very fond memories of that. We'll work toward having very fond memories here.''

Blackburn took note of Foster's enthusiasm for the opportunity to help Chattanooga build on the momentum Moore established.

''He has mentioned his energy level, his desire to still learn and teach,'' Blackburn said. ''I think there's no question he's got the fire in his belly to prove he can still take a group of players and motivate them and move them forward.''

Foster said he already has spent about half an hour tallking with Moore, who went 358-113 in 15 seasons at Chattanooga. Although he still must complete the rest of his staff, Foster says he's keeping assistant Katie Burrows, who played and coached for Moore at Chattanooga.

He's looking forward to the opportunity to return to the mid-major level.

''I've been David, and I've been Goliath,'' Foster said. ''It's a heck of a lot more fun being David.''

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