Former Ohio State women’s basketball coach Jim Foster landed on his feet after being fired by OSU and will now coach the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga women’s team. It remains to be seen whether Foster had fair warning that his old job at OSU was in jeopardy.
The final performance review of Foster’s 11-season stay with the Buckeyes, administered by associate athletic director Miechelle Willis in June 2012, doesn’t appear to indicate that Foster’s departure was looming. Criticisms discussed by Willis during the March 19 press conference to announce Foster’s firing are mostly consistent with the final performance evaluation, with exception to the fact that he was rated as having met the vast majority of contractual expectations.
Using the terms “exceeded expectations,” “proficient” and “opportunity for improvement,” Willis rated Foster to have been at least proficient in all three of his key job responsibilities (recruiting, conference and national competitiveness, and managing the program). Foster was also graded on more specific criteria listed in 48 sub-categories in which he received the “opportunity for improvement” designation (the lowest grade possible) just four times, earning him an overall “proficient” rating.
Proficient, as defined on the evaluation documents, constitutes “attaining required expectations. Expected results are consistently met. The contribution to the department is that expected of a fully qualified and experienced employee. Employee is well placed in their position.”
Despite the overall proficient rating, the athletic department’s expectation for Foster’s team in the postseason was clear. Due to an 18-13 overall record last season, Foster did not get an opportunity to answer his employer’s calls for a deep postseason run.
During the March 19 press conference, Willis cited a lack of postseason success as a major factor in the decision to fire Foster, saying, “We strive to be nationally competitive. We believe that we have everything in place here to be nationally competitive. We believe that means that we should be playing deep into (the) postseason. We expect to be in the Final Four on occasion, and definitely the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are expectations that we have.”
Foster received the “opportunity for improvement” grade with regard to qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, which OSU did for the 2011-12 season before the No. 8-seeded Buckeyes lost their first-round game against No. 9 Florida. “Competing” in the NCAA Tournament was also part of the expectation for Foster, according to the evaluation documents.
In the comment section on this part of the evaluation, Willis clearly conveyed the athletic department’s stance: “…Expectation is to be advancing deeper in the NCAA Tournament.”
Foster could not provide a strong defense for that particular criticism during the 2012-13 season as the Buckeyes failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The team’s postseason record throughout Foster’s stay in Columbus is not in his favor, either. During his tenure as coach at the of the Buckeyes, the Cheltenham, Pa., native posted a 10-10 record in NCAA Tournament play and his Buckeyes teams were eliminated in one of the first two rounds during seven of 10 postseason runs.
OSU did advance as far as the Sweet 16-round three times (2004-05, 2008-09 and 2010-11), but never any further.
Foster did not respond to The Lantern’s multiple requests for comment.
As Foster was terminated from his post without cause, he was previously entitled to receive up to $350,000 in installment payments beginning on June 30, 2013, and concluding by April 30, 2014, according to his OSU contract. OSU athletics director for legal affairs Julie Vannatta confirmed May 22 that the amount that will be paid out to Foster has changed as a result of his hiring to coach the UT-Chattanooga women’s program on May 9. The amount owed by OSU will be dictated by his new contract.
UT-Chattanooga did not respond to The Lantern’s multiple requests for Foster’s salary.