Boston College executed something of a New England baseball recruiting coup on Wednesday, hiring Rhode Island Rams head coach Jim Foster to the top assistant's job under Mike Gambino. Foster takes over the slot vacated by Scott Friedholm when he departed BC to take the head coach's job at UNC-Asheville.
Foster won 269 games in nine seasons at URI, the winningest coach in their program's history. Under his tutelage, the Rams finished first in the Atlantic-10 Conference twice while failing to win 30 games only twice. Unfortunately one of those seasons came last year, a 13-40 campaign that saw the Rams finish second-to-last in 12th place one season after finishing atop the league.
A graduate of Providence College, Foster provides BC with an enigmatic and interesting hire. He was arguably one of the best head coaches in New England over the past decade, and last season stood out as something of an outlier moreso than his past performances. While he never made it to the NCAA Tournament, Foster's a proven winner, even if it is in the A-10, and at 42 years old, he's still a young coach on par with the age of his boss, Mike Gambino. As an assistant to Frank Leoni, URI made the 2005 NCAA Tournament as the A-10 Tournament champion and was nominated for the A-10 Pitching Coach of the Year. In 2011, he was named conference Coach of the Year as a head man.
Then there's the off-the-field stuff. Jim Foster helped spearhead a campaign at URI raising over $2 million for the Rams baseball program. The money went to facility renovations and upgrades, including an indoor hitting facility at the URI baseball field. Ironically enough, when Shea Field was deemed unplayable in the early stages of 2014, BC moved some of its home games to...URI. He's also helped URI earn recognition as the "best Division I program in New England" from the BoSox Club.
Aaron Fitt from Baseball America lauded the move by saying, "Foster is the real deal; he'll make a serious impact at BC." Fan site Rhody Rampage called the departure a "big hit for URI."
So on the surface, this hire looks like a completely great move for the Boston College program. But there's something I just can't put my finger on with it.
The hire makes absolutely no sense from Gambino's standpoint. Foster is the type of coach that would've taken the BC job a year ago before the 13-win season down in Rhode Island. BC also wasn't able to defeat Rhode Island with regularity until a two-game sweep towards the end of last season over the Gambino era. A guy who played seven seasons in the minors, Foster reached AAA with four different organizations, often times starting his year in lower level and working up. He nearly cracked it with the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox, and his minor league statistics with both Arizona and Anaheim stick out as being better than average. A lifetime .273 hitter, he did all of this as a catcher, which means he'll be well-suited to handle both defensive and pitching coach duties.
In short, this seems like a hire where the guy assisting might be a better coach than the actual head coach, which just doesn't make much sense in the collegiate game. He also departed a head coaching position for an assistant's job, which is a step backwards unless he sees an opportunity in Chestnut Hill. So either Mike Gambino did some serious sweet talking and has a great relationship with another coach, or this is a message that his seat is finally scorchingly hot.
This could be the start of something at BC, and it could be recognized as a turning point. Bringing in a coach like Jim Foster is one of those power moves in New England that could help bring the Eagles back after four completely wasted seasons of subpar ball. But the questions about the move won't be answered until the spring.
Until then, let's offer a warm welcome to Jim Foster, an absolutely tremendous coach from Rhode Island who we can only hope will help fix the Boston College baseball landscape!