Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats": Lamar and Houston's Pat Foster

June 30th, 2012
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Pat Foster, who went 134-39 in six seasons at Lamar. From there Foster went on to Houston, where he led the Cougars to multiple NCAA tournament appearances. Before becoming a head coach Foster was an assistant at his alma mater (Arkansas) under Eddie Sutton, and the Razorbacks reached the Final Four in 1978.

Jon Teitel: You were an All-SWC basketball player at Arkansas and played first base on the baseball team. Which sport did you like more, and which one were you better at? 

Pat Foster: I liked basketball better because I was more successful at it, but I like baseball as well and have been a baseball fan ever since. 

JT: You spent eight years as an assistant to coach Eddie Sutton with fellow assistant Gene Keady at your alma mater, where you helped recruit guys like Sidney Moncrief. How were you able to convince Moncrief to come to Arkansas? 

PF: Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer came here because every time one of the assistants went into a meeting that is what we focused on.  A lot of times the person who gets credit for recruiting a player is not the person who actually makes it happen.  I introduced Sidney and Ron to the program, and Marvin's high school coach and I were friends.  I used some contacts that I had in Little Rock who helped convince Moncrief to come here.  There are many factors that go into recruiting so I cannot take all the credit. 

JT: One of your former players at Arkansas was Houston Nutt, who later became a successful Division I football coach. What was he like as a basketball player, and did you ever imagine that he could become an SEC football coach? 

PF: I could see it. I really liked him and I knew his dad.  He was a really quick basketball player and could handle the ball.  He was fancy before fancy was popular: no-look passes, behind-the-back dribbles, etc.  He was not a great shooter and got caught behind a perimeter that was well-stacked.  He did not play a lot but was easy to coach, as his dad was a coach as well.  

JT: What are your memories of the 1977 NCAA tournament (after finishing the regular season at 26-1, Arkansas suffered a six-point loss to Wake Forest thanks to 26 points [10-17 FG] from Rod Griffin, and Sutton was so upset by that loss that he allegedly refused to speak to any of the players over the following summer)? 

PF: That story about Sutton is not true.  I had a lot of tough losses but that one is still in the Top 5 for me, even though I was just an assistant.  It was a sad time for us because we led by 14 in the second half.  It was a brutal situation but Eddie did not take it out on his players. 

1978 NCAA tournament

JT: Delph had 23 points and ten rebounds while playing all 40 minutes in a four-point win over UCLA. What was the mood of the team before facing the legendary Bruins, and what did you learn from the 1977 tournament that helped you in 1978? 

PF: Experience calms a player down and also gives them confidence.  I feel that the 1977 loss helped us win in 1978.  We were not cocky at all but were supremely confident...and damn good!  The five starters fit together very well even though none of them were alike as basketball players.  Jimmy Counce and Moncrief were the two best leaders I was ever around as players.  Moncrief made himself a great player: he was only a 6-4 post player in high school.  Sutton coached the game based on tough defense. If they drove to the basket then we would pop them. 

JT: Regional MVP Brewer hit a 25-foot shot with just over one minute left to clinch a three-point win over Fullerton, during which NBC broadcaster Al McGuire labeled Brewer, Delph and Moncrief the "Triplets". How good a shooter was Brewer, and how did the guys like the nickname? 

PF: They liked the nickname just fine. They had supreme respect for authority.  Brewer's shot was more like a 17-20 footer.  Fullerton came back down the floor and Brewer made a great defensive play to knock the ball loose. 

JT: Tourney MOP Jack Givens had 23 points and nine rebounds in a five-point win by eventual champion Kentucky. How devastating was that loss, and where does that Kentucky team rank among the best you have ever seen? 

PF: Any loss is a bad loss but it was not a devastating, hang-your-head loss because they were better than we were.  Eddie instilled in his players that they had to play to the best of their ability for as long as they could.  We really did all that we could do against Kentucky. 

JT: Coach Sutton called for a "Brewer Special", so Brewer backed down Bill Hanzlik and made a turnaround jumper at the buzzer in a two-point win over Notre Dame in the third-place game to finish the season 32-4 and tie the then-NCAA record for most wins in a season. Where does Brewer's shot rank among the most clutch you have ever seen, and what was the reaction like when it went in? 

PF: At that point in our development as a program it was a real big shot.  I do not say this a lot but Brewer might be the most talented player I was ever around.  He was a great jump shooter but could also take it to the rim over a bigger player. 

1979 NCAA tournament

JT: Steve Schall had 18 points (9-9 FG) and eight rebounds in a win over Weber State after you had beaten them in the first round of the 1978 tournament. Was Schall just "in the zone" that night, and do you think Weber was getting sick of playing you every year in the tourney? 

PF: Probably. Current UCLA coach Ben Howland played for Weber State that year.  That was probably Schall's best game. 

JT: Moncrief had 27 points and 12 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes in a win over a Louisville team that won the NCAA title the following year. What made Moncrief such a great player, and could you tell at the time that Denny Crum had the pieces in place to make a long run in the tournament the following season? 

PF: After Louisville won the title in 1980 Crum told me that he used Moncrief as an example of a guy who could score against anybody.  "Possessed" is the best word I could use to describe Moncrief in big games. He just refused to let us lose.  He was not the kind of guy who would talk in the huddle, he just led by doing it.  Our lanky freshman Scott Hastings dunked a ball in the Louisville game that goes down in my memory as one of the biggest plays I have ever seen. 

JT: Larry Bird had 31 points and ten rebounds while playing all 40 minutes in a two-point win by eventual runner-up Indiana State. Was Bird as unstoppable as he seemed, and was he the best opponent you ever faced? 

PF: He was the best I ever faced and the most outstanding college basketball player I have ever seen in person.  He was like Pistol Pete but under control. God he was great!

JT: What are your memories of the 1981 NCAA tournament in your first year as head coach at Lamar (Lamar beat Missouri by four, but Rudy Macklin scored 31 points in a win by 1-seed LSU)? 

PF: We did as well as we could. LSU ended up making it all the way to the Final Four.  Missouri had some great players like Jon Sundvold and Steve Stipanovich, but they had a bad game while we shot the lights out.  We were the closest thing toGonzaga at that time in terms of a mid-major who could win games in the tournament. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1983 NCAA tournament (Lamar beat Alabama then fell to Villanova by two)? 

PF: The Alabama game was one of the best games that we ever played.  Alabama had won the SEC title but before they knew it we had beat them.  The conference tournaments have given the mid-majors a better shot of pulling an upset. 

JT: The following season you had a three-point loss to Karl Malone's Louisiana Tech team which snapped Lamar's 80-game home court winning streak at the Beaumont Civic Center (which was the longest in the nation). How close did you come to winning that game, and what was the reaction like after the streak ended? 

PF: It was a last-second deal.  We had a 6-9 guy named James Gulley who could take it inside and score on Malone, but one great player will beat three good ones every time.  Several years later Malone saw me in the airport, walked up to me and said, "Have you talked to Gulley lately?!"

JT: After previously withdrawing your name from consideration as a replacement for the retiring legendary head coach Guy Lewis at Houston, you changed your mind and accepted their offer. Why did you withdraw your name at first, and what made you later change your mind?  

PF: I withdrew because they would not make a decision as to whether they wanted me or not.  They later came back to me with an offer that I could not refuse.  Guy Lewis is one of the nicest coaches I have ever met and was nothing but professional. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1990 NCAA tournament (Carl Herrera scored 19 points in a four-point loss to UCSB)?  

PF: That is one of my Top 5 worst and is probably equal to the Wake Forest loss. It hurt me really bad.  A lot of the Houston fans switched their allegiance from the Cougars to the Rockets once Hakeem Olajuwon left the former for the latter. 

JT: In 1992 you were named Southwest Conference Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? 

PF: I did not remember that. I guess it is better than not getting it!  I took every game as an Arkansas assistant coach as personally as if I was the head coach because all of my friends were there.  When you win a game or an award you just worry about what you will do next to keep it going, and that pressure is what eventually breaks coaches down. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1992 NCAA tournament (Jon Barry scored 17 points in a five-point Georgia Tech victory)? 

PF: Bobby Cremins beat me.  We had them beat even though they had a few future pros on that team (including Travis Best and Matt Geiger), but could not hang on for the win.  They hit an amazing three-pointer towards the end.  If you coach long enough you will win games you are not supposed to win...but then it will turn on you!

JT: You had three players who were in the 1992 Olympics: Carl Herrera (Venezuela), Rolando Ferreira (Brazil), and David Diaz (Venezuela). How were you able to recruit so many foreign players, and what impact do you think foreign players will continue to have on college basketball in the 21st century? 

PF: A lot, I hope.   Many of those guys are throwbacks to the 1970s in terms of fundamentals because the foreign coaches have learned a lot after decades of clinics run by American coaches.  Recruiting is the dark side of sports and has ruined a lot of good players, but foreign players were not scarred by that at all.  I have always had a great feeling for foreign players and like to see them get the opportunity to come here and play.  It is impossible to judge eligibility because some of them get money for playing on club teams. The system is different. 

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? 

PF: I have thought about this more than you think.  I have some regrets that I did not really do as much for my players as I should have.  Winning becomes everything and the pressure to keep winning and supporting the program caused me to worry.  Instead of chewing a kid's rear end out I should have had more compassion for the pressure that they were under.  After he went to the NBA, Moncrief said that it would be great if coaches could remember how hard it is to play and if players could remember how hard it is to coach. 
Foster is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Southland history.

Central Arkansas: Don Dyer (1979-1993) 285-145, 3 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
Lamar: Pat Foster (1980-1986) 134-49, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles
McNeese State: Ralph Ward (1952-1971) 282-194, 6 conference titles, 1 NAIA title
Nicholls State: Rickey Broussard (1990-2002) 150-183, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
Northwestern State: Mike McConathy (1999-present) 200-204, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
SE Louisiana: Billy Kennedy (1999-2005) 80-92, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Sam Houston State: Bob Marlin (1998-2010) 225-131, 2 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
Stephen F. Austin: Danny Kaspar (2000-present) 219-136, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Texas A&M CC: Ronnie Arrow (1999-2007) 134-91, 1 NCAA tourney, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY
Texas State: Mike Miller (1994-2000) 87-79, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
UT Arlington: Eddie McCarter (1992-2006) 179-211, 1 conference title     
UTSA: Tim Carter (1995-2006) 160-152, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY