Due to a New Jersey pension law, Tim Mooney, one of the premier coaches in the state who built the Ridge girls track and field and cross-country programs into state and national powers, will not be permitted to coach at Ridge this fall or winter.
According to the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) Member Guidebook, Mooney, who is retiring from teaching at Ridge effective July 1, must sit out 180 days beginning on Sept. 1 before he's eligible to return to coach at Ridge. The law mandates that anyone under the age of 59 1/2 who returns to their employer within 180 days would forfeit their pension under statute N.J.S.A. 18A:66-53.2(c)
That means that the 55-year-old Mooney, who has coached at Ridge from 1988 through indoor 2020, will not be coaching at Ridge for the upcoming cross-country or winter track and field seasons.
But there was no way the multiple State Coach of the Year wasn't going to be coaching somewhere this fall.
After weighing his options, Mooney recently accepted an assistant cross-country position at Union Catholic for the upcoming XC season, where he can start coaching right away.
Meanwhile, Ridge is still seeking a replacement for Mooney for this fall and winter.
Mooney said retiring from teaching as soon as he was eligible was always his goal, but he plans to keep coaching for as long as he can.
"I have 33 years in teaching at Ridge (physical education and health) and I can retire at 55, so that was my plan for a long time,'' said Mooney, who graduated from Edison High in 1983 and Rutgers University in '87. "But while I'm done with the teaching end of it, I'm not done with the coaching end of it. I haven't had enough of it. I still love it, and I feel like I can keep doing that for a while as long as I'm enjoying it and being productive. The state has their pension laws that I don't agree with, and it comes down to the fact that I have to sit out 180 days and won't be eligible to coach at Ridge until the spring.''
Mooney said he's always had a good relationship with Mike McCabe, the Union Catholic cross country and track and field coach.
"I've known Mike for a while and we always talk at meets, so when this opportunity came up to coach with him at UC I felt like it was a good fit for me,'' said Mooney. "They've have a really good cross-country program, and I feel like I have a lot to offer to make it even stronger. I want to help UC get medals at the Meet of Champions. I can't wait to get started doing what I love to do.''
What about the long term? Will Mooney return to Ridge when he's eligible?
"I'm just going to take it as it goes and evaluate whether it's something I am going to stay with or will I have an opportunity to go back to Ridge,'' said Mooney. "After what's happened the last three months, it's impossible to predict what will happen in nine months. We'll just have to wait and see how everything plays out.''
Mooney said he's gotten over the initial shock of his unique situation.
"I was more upset five or six months ago, not knowing how everything was going to work out and wondering what am I going to do,'' said Mooney. "At the same time, I told myself that I have no control over this. The girls on the team at Ridge were disappointed when I told them, but they understand that this wasn't my choice. Now I'm focusing on getting started at Union Catholic. I'm very excited about working with Mike and his teams.''
Here are some of Mooney's highlights during his remarkable run as girls coach at Ridge.
Mooney led the Red Devils to its first two XC Meet of Champions titles in school history (2015 and '16), three Group 4 XC titles, eight sectional XC Championships, and 14 top 10 finishes at the M of C, all since 2003.
Ridge has won a state record tying nine sectional titles, including seven in a row (Haddonfield has also won nine). Mooney hals also guided the Red Devils to two state relays titles.
Note-2008 was the first year sectionals were contested).
Six sectional titles, one State Group 4 title (2017)
Mooney's 4x800 relay teams have been among the best in the nation, winning the New Balance National Indoor titles in 2017 and '18.
In 2017, Meghan Convery (2:15.44), Catherine Giuseffi (2:16.50), Kaitlyn Van Baalen (2:17.19) and Brooke Fazio (2:12.51) combined for a 9:01.64 to give Ridge its first title at the New Balance National Indoor Championship at the New Balance Center in New York. A month later, they ran a NJ#4 all-time 8:55.82 to place third at the 2017 Penn Relays.
This past March, Ridge ran its streak to nine straight Meet of Champions titles in the 4x800 by capturing its fourth straight indoor title (it's only been contested four times). Ridge has also won the last five 4x800 crowns at the outdoor M of C.