Former Duke basketball coach Bill Foster dies at age 86

By Scott Fowler


Bill Foster, the former Duke and South Carolina basketball coach, died Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. He was 86.
Bill Foster, the former Duke and South Carolina basketball coach, died Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. He was 86.

Bill Foster, the basketball coach who guided Duke to the 1978 NCAA championship game and also coached at South Carolina, died Thursday.

He was 86.

Foster passed away peacefully in Chicago and was surrounded by his family and friends, said his daughter, Debbie Foster.

In this area, Foster is most well-known for coaching one of Duke's most beloved teams. He directed a Blue Devils squad that featured Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks to the 1978 championship game before losing to Kentucky.

But Foster had success at numerous places. He coached four different Division I basketball teams to 20-win seasons -- Duke, South Carolina, Utah and Rutgers -- and also was the head coach toward the end of his career at Northwestern.

He was also sometimes mistaken for the other Bill Foster, who during his career was the head basketball coach at Clemson, Charlotte and Virginia Tech. That Bill Foster died in May 2015 at age 79.

I never covered either Bill Foster -- they were both a bit before my time. But I was fortunate enough in September to get asked by the Foster family to get a bit involved in his life.

Foster and his wife were living in Texas in the summer of 2015 and drove to the Carolinas for a family reunion and beach trip. On the way home, though, Foster was forced to make a detour to Charlotte because he was feeling poorly. He ended up in the hospital for several days.

One of Foster's daughters, Debbie, lives in the Charlotte area. She and I talked and she said her father always perked up whenever someone sent him an email or card and said they remembered him.

So I was the go-between for that -- publicizing Foster’s condition, collecting emails and sending them along to the family. Well over 100 people sent emails and cards, including ACC commissioner John Swofford and many former Duke and South Carolina fans, They all reminisced about Foster's on-court classiness and the many personal kindnesses he bestowed upon people when the cameras were off.

"All those emails and cards meant so much to him," Debbie Foster said Thursday. "He read them all several times."

The family plans a private funeral in Chicago. A memorial service will also be held at a later date.