Bill Foster (basketball, born 1930)
- For the former coach at Charlotte, Clemson, and Virginia Tech, see Bill Foster (basketball, born 1936).
Bill Foster (born August 19, 1930) was the head men's basketball coach at Rutgers University, University of Utah, Duke University, University of South Carolina, and Northwestern University. He is best known for guiding Duke to the NCAA championship game in 1978, and that year he was named national Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Foster has been inducted into the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame and was the first NCAA coach to guide four different teams to 20-win seasons (Rutgers, Utah, Duke, and South Carolina).
Foster grew up in Norwood, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he graduated from Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, in 1954 with a bachelor of science degree.
Foster began his coaching career at Philadelphia-area high schools in the 1950s. One of his students in a typing class at Abington Senior High School was the daughter of Harry Litwack, the longtime basketball coach at Temple University. Foster and Litwack became friends and business partners, and for about 25 years they operated a popular summer basketball camp in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.
Foster's Division I career began in 1963 at Rutgers University, where he led the Scarlet Knights to an overall record of 120-75 (.615) in eight seasons. In the 1966-1967 season, the Scarlet Knights finished with a record of 22-7 and was invited to the NIT, the first time the school had qualified for postseason play.
After the 1971 season, Foster took the head coaching job at the University of Utah, replacing legendary Utah basketball coach Jack Gardner. Though his stay with the Utes was short, in three seasons (1971-74), he led the Utes to a 43-39 (.524) record. He also guided the Utes to the 1974 NIT Championship game, where they finished runner-up to Purdue University. Finishing with a 22-8 record, Foster became the head coach at Duke University.
Bill Foster's greatest success as a head coach would come at Duke University, taking over a struggling program with a proud history that was searching for stability and strong leadership. Duke was one of only eight schools at that time to have hit the 1,000-victory plateau and the program in its seemingly forgotten past had once seen Final Fours and Conference championships. "I knew Duke from the Bubas years when they were great, and I thought they could be great again, should be great again. I was a little shocked when they offered me the job, it just seemed like a great place to coach." Foster once said. 1974-75, Foster's first season saw few highlights, but there was one. In the early 1970s the four North Carolina schools participated in a tournament called "The Big Four Tournament." Duke, taking on 8th ranked arch-rival North Carolina pulled off a shocker in upsetting the Tar Heels 99-96 in overtime. Foster began to slowly rebuild the program, bringing in one future great player a year. First, it was future All-American Jim Spanarkel in 1975, then future Duke great Mike Gminski in 1976. Those two joined senior prolific scorer Tate Armstrong for the 1976-77 season and things appeared early that Duke was back. The Devils started out 12-3 that year with wins over 15th ranked N.C. State and later at 15th ranked Tennessee. But it would not last. In a game up at Virginia, Tate Armstrong suffered a broken wrist and was lost for the season. The young Blue Devils full of potential but still a fragile unit would never recover but the next year would produce a season that would nearly stun the college basketball world.
In addition to talented returnees Spanarkel and Gminski, Foster added Indiana transfer Bob Bender who was on the Hoosiers legendary undefeated 1976 NCAA Champions and stunned everyone by getting a verbal commitment from one of the top players in America, Gene Banks. Joining Banks were two good players in Kenny Dennard and John Harrell from nearby North Carolina Central University. The 1977-78 Duke Blue Devils begin to gain steam after a mid January 92-84 win over 2nd ranked North Carolina. Duke would win 15 of their final 19 games, en route to a 27-7 season, a final ranking of 7th, a long awaited ACC Tournament Championship and a trip to the NCAA Final Four. But the ride was supposed to end as Duke would be facing a 6th ranked Notre Dame team in the semi-final that fielded eight future NBA players. But Duke scored the upset 90-86, setting up the 1978 NCAA championship game with powerhouse Kentucky. Duke fought admirably, but Kentucky was too experienced and had the weight of the world on their shoulders from fans back in the bluegrass who wanted that long awaited title. Still, despite the loss the future looked tremendous for Duke.
The 1978-79 season saw Duke as the nation's preseason No. 1-ranked team. The Devils dispatched 14th-ranked North Carolina to win the Big Four Tournament for the first time, but chemistry issues and bad luck with injuries would not recapture the magic of 1978. Duke shared the ACC regular season title, but illness and injury derailed both their ACC tournament and NCAA tournament hopes as Duke finished 22-8 and 11th in the AP poll. Duke had another solid season in 1979-80, defeating second-ranked Kentucky in an early-season matchup and winning another Big Four Tournament over 6th ranked North Carolina 86-74. Duke would assume the nation's No. 1 ranking for several weeks and start out 12-0 on the year. But an injury to valuable forward Kenny Dennard sent the team into an up-and-down league season. After Dennard returned, Duke regrouped and won the 1980 ACC tournament, finished 14th in the AP poll, tallied a 24-9 season, advancing to the Elite Eight after an upset of Kentucky in the sweet 16 in Rupp Arena.
Foster guided Duke to a 113-64 (.638) record from 1975-80. He was named ACC coach of the year in 1978, won two ACC championships, as well as winning two Big Four titles, an ACC regular season title and of course leading Duke to the 1978 NCAA Final Four where they finished NCAA runner-up. While Foster is overlooked in the wake of the achievements of Duke coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Vic Bubas, the Foster era returned Duke to national prominence and paved the way for Krzyzewski's success.
The 1977-78 Blue Devils were the subject of John Feinstein's 1989 book "Forever's Team."
Foster left Duke after six seasons to become the head coach at the University of South Carolina, succeeding legendary coach Frank McGuire. In December 1983, Foster's health became an issue when he suffered what doctors called a "moderate heart attack." He became ill late in a game against Purdue, which South Carolina won, 59-53, and later collapsed in the dressing room. Although he would recover, he was never quite the same as a coach and would eventually resign in 1986 after a losing season. In 1987, the NCAA placed the program on two years' probation for rules violations that occurred during Foster's tenure.
In April 1986 Foster was named head coach at Northwestern University, where he would finish his coaching career. Although he compiled a winning nonconference record, including victories over regional rivals Marquette, DePaul and Loyola of Chicago, he wasn't able to compete with the Big Ten's powerhouse programs for top talent, and the Wildcats finished last in the conference in six of his seven seasons.
A highlight of Foster's tenure was a nationally televised upset of defending national champion Indiana in 1988. But the program was decimated in 1990 when four of Northwestern's more talented players transferred out of the program, including Rex Walters, who left for Kansas (and was later a first-round pick in the 1993 NBA Draft).
The next season, Northwestern went winless in the Big Ten. But two freshman starters on that 1990-91 squad, point guard Patrick Baldwin and forward-center Kevin Rankin, would go on to lead the Wildcats to the 1994 NIT as seniors.
That 1993-94 team, however, would not be coached by Foster. When Northwestern Athletic Director Bruce Corrie resigned in April 1993, Foster agreed to step aside as men's basketball coach and become interim athletic director. Foster hired Ricky Byrdsong as his successor as coach, then continued as athletic director until January 1994, when Rick Taylor was hired as the school's permanent athletic director.
After leaving Northwestern, Foster became associate commissioner and director of basketball operations for the now-defunct Southwest Conference. He later worked as a consultant with the Western Athletic Conference and the Big 12 Conference. He was a longtime member of the board of trustees of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., serving as chairman from 1996 to 1998.
Foster is the author of four books, including "Upward Mobility in Coaching Basketball" and "Filling Seats=Dollars."
Head coaching record
- "Palestra Pandemonium: A History of the Big 5," by Robert S. Lyons, p. 40
- "A History of the University of South Carolina, 1940-2000," by Henry H. Lesesne