By Steve Ruman
For the 12th time in the last 24 years, the Niles McKinley High girls basketball program has a new leader.
School officials on Wednesday confirmed their decision to hire Doug Foster as the new head coach of the Red Dragons. Foster will replace Erica Wilson, whose contract was not renewed following a two-year stint.
A Niles native, Foster recently completed his second year as the head coach of the boys program at Champion High, where his contract was not renewed.
Foster’s hiring is pending board approval, but is expected to be approved tonight when the board of education gathers for its monthly meeting.
“Returning to Niles is something I’ve always wanted,” Foster said. “It’s home. The school has always produced solid student-athletes who are known for their dedication and work ethic. I truly believe the girls I’ll be coaching possess that same dedication, or I wouldn’t have pursued this job.”
A 1983 Niles graduate, Foster served as a varsity assistant under Don Andres for 16 years. He coached with Andres at Niles, Howland and Reynolds, Pa.
Foster also guided the Niles Middle School program for two years before being hired at Champion.
“That many years of varsity basketball experience was too much to pass up,” said Niles athletic director Marc Fritz. “Doug’s basketball IQ is extraordinary. He knows the game inside out. He’ll be good for the girls. They will learn a lot from them.”
Fritz said that Foster’s desire to build the program from the elementary schools on up was also a selling point in the interview process.
“If we’re going to succeed at the varsity level, we have to get our athletes prepared early on. Doug repeatedly stressed the importance of getting girls interested and teaching them the fundamentals, all the way down to the grade school level,” Fritz said.
While Foster does possess a wealth of coaching experience, none of it has been with girls basketball. However, he anticipates a quick and smooth transition.
“It’s no different than teaching a classroom full of girls and boys,” Foster said. “My ideas and philosophies won’t change. I will give everything I have to the program, and I’ll expect my players to do the same.
“Coaching is all about building bonds, teaching life lessons and teaching the fundamentals. I can be a rather intense individual. I will probably have to tone that down just a bit, but as far as my basic teaching philosophies and my ideals are concerned, they will remain the same.”
Foster takes over a program which is struggling for both stability and success. Since 1990, the average coaching tenure at Niles has been just two years. Meanwhile, the Dragons have averaged just two wins per year over the past nine years, and haven’t had a non-losing season since 2003-04, when they went 11-11.
“I’m no miracle worker, but I also know the possibilities that exist here,” Foster said. “Growing up, I watched the Niles girls compete with the best around here. They weren’t any different than the girls we have today. They won through pride and hard work.”
Foster said that among his first order of business is to increase numbers within the program, especially at lower levels. Niles has been without a freshmen team, and it was forced to cancel a handful of junior varsity games last year due to a lack of players.