Chattanooga's Jim Foster began coaching long before he was old enough to drive.
Foster was playing on a CYO team at 13 when his coach quit and a priest selected Foster as player-coach for the rest of the season.
"Probably because I was the only one who could pass, catch and dribble," Foster quipped this week.
Foster's next win will be the 900th of his college coaching career, tying former Texas coach Jody Conradt for seventh all-time. He is 899-341 in 40 seasons as a college head coach at St. Joseph's, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Chattanooga.The only women's basketball coaches with more wins are former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer, Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell, Bentley's Barbara Stevens (Division II) and Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer.
The 69-year-old Foster will become the latest coach to reach a magic number this year. Auriemma, Hatchell and Stevens all earned their 1,000th wins this season. Stringer is six wins away from 1,000 with eight games remaining in the regular season.
Foster would prefer not to think about No. 900, particularly with Chattanooga struggling more than usual in its bid for a sixth consecutive Southern Conference title. His first shot at his 900th win comes Saturday when the Mocs (13-7, 4-2) host Southern Conference leader Mercer (19-2, 6-0).
"It's sort of a pain in the neck because I'm trying to get a group of kids functioning (and) there's all this noise in the background," Foster said. "I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to it. I'm much more in tune with tightening up what we do."
That doesn't surprise people who've worked with Foster, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame."He's probably not going to enjoy all the attention he's going to get when he wins his 900th game," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "It's never been about him. It's always about the team. He's never cared about winning Coach of the Year or anything that was like a personal accomplishment."
Foster's coaching tree attests to his coaching acumen. Two former St. Joseph's assistants are Auriemma and McGraw, both Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductees.
Foster went 248-126 at St. Joe's, 256-99 at Vanderbilt and 279-82 at Ohio State. He is 116-34 at Chattanooga and has led the Mocs to Southern Conference regular-season and tournament titles each of his four seasons there.
He's the only Division I women's coach to reach the NCAA Tournament or Top 25 at four different schools.
"To do it over a long period of time at four different places and take four different teams to the NCAAs at four different types of schools, that's pretty remarkable he could do that," Auriemma said.
He's coached different generations, the latest in the age of social media.
Chattanooga guard Aryanna Gilbert says Foster makes sure players aren't using their phones during team dinners or other functions and engage with one another.
"He always says basketball is just like a game, but he wants us to be better people when we leave," Gilbert said.
When he looks back on his achievements, Foster doesn't bring up individual victories, instead mentioning letters he's received from players long after their college careers.
"The fact I still have relationships with people I've coached 30-40 years ago, let alone three or four years ago, and the fact that when they walk into the gym, I'm happy to see them and I think they're happy to see me," Foster said. "That's the stuff that matters in the long run."
Foster doesn't know how much longer he plans to coach. He says he approaches the future on a year-to-year basis.
He could have retired in 2013 when Ohio State fired him after he failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the only time in his 11-year tenure. Foster instead headed to Chattanooga to finish on his own terms.
"When I do make a decision not to do it, it's because it's going to be somebody else's turn, and I get that," said Foster, whose teams have missed the NCAA Tournament just three times since 1985. "I want to be able to make that decision. I think I'd earned the right to make that decision myself."
Foster's numbers back that up.