Before turning Seton Hall into a national force, cross country coach John Moon sat behind a desk and inspired others in another way.
For seven years, Moon was a high school teacher and although he was loved by many, he felt as if his passion was elsewhere. The track and field program at Rahway High School won a state title every year that Moon coached.
“When I first came here, I was an administrator, but it just wasn’t me,” Moon said. “I just wanted the challenge to move on to higher level, it was very rewarding to come here back in ’72. Just imagining some of the teams I coached for that 35 or 38-year period was special.”
During the winter of 2010, Seton Hall announced that it would eliminate four varsity sports as a restructuring plan to stay financially stable. The news came as a big shock to Moon and forced him into a position to change the program for the better.
“Now on a small scale, people figure Seton Hall is dead, ‘How could you produce real good runners without a track program’,” Moon said. “I don’t let that stop me and I have the type of athletes that are hungry. Based on my experience and coaching, my runners can run against the best of them. We don’t idolize any of the bigger schools, we run at ‘em.”
In 2015, Moon coached Team USA in the Pan-American Games and brought back plenty of hardware from Toronto. The Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Famer guided the team to 41 total medals, including 13 gold – the red, white and blue’s highest medal tally in the games in 15 years.
Entering his 47th season as head of the cross-country program, Moon shows no signs of slowing down. The women were without two of their top runners in sophomore Emma Newgarden and junior Olivia Hernandez albeit the fantastic team finish at the Salisbury Championship in Maryland. This past week both the men and women finished runner-up.
“We lost to Navy by a few points and some of key girls didn’t run,” Moon said. “Each week the [Hernandez] twins have been reliable, and Emma [Newgarden] was the beast last year, only as a freshman.”
The workout regimen for Seton Hall cross country is year-round and expectedly involves a lot of running. Since July 1, Moon has the men running 80 miles per week and for the women, around 70. Moon noted that at one point, his top runners from last season in Jared Moser and Jesse Southgard were hitting 100 miles on a weekly basis.
“I look at success within each individual, it’s not about what can I win,” said Moon. “I expect a couple of my guys to run 25 or 24 minutes in an 8K – that’s success, that’s what I want while coaching. Getting five girls running 22 minutes in a 6K, which I think can happen, that’s close to utopia for this level.”
If 71 All-Americans, seven NCAA champions and six Big East team titles is not enough, there may not be an end any time soon for Moon. The task of revitalizing a program that lacks the resources of other Big East schools continues to motivate him day-in and day-out.
“We’re there,” said Moon. “Success for me is that our guys do better every competition – that they know we’re coming.”
Evando Thompson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @Thompsev.