When Chris Mooney was introduced as the fifth head coach in the history of the Air Force men's basketball program on April 22, 2004, he did not have a hard time expressing his feelings for the Falcon program or the Air Force Academy.
"I am honored and ecstatic to be the head basketball coach at the nation's greatest school," said Mooney. "I recognize the awesome responsibility that I have in leading the men's basketball program here. I promise to embrace that responsibility with passion, energy and commitment to the institution, to our administration and to our players."
Mooney, who has been with the program for four years, including the last two as associate head coach, was promoted to the top spot when Joe Scott left to take the head coaching job at Princeton University.
He takes over with a history of winning as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach. Mooney helped the Falcons to their best season in program history last year, going 22-7, win the Mountain West Conference Championship and make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1962. Of course, Mooney was responsible for recruiting most of the players on the team, now he's responsible for every aspect of the program.
The 32-year old Mooney is also the fourth youngest head coach in Division I. But none of that rattles him one bit. "I recognize how significant it is and how fortunate I am," he said. "I think my experience, coupled with my age, is an asset. I was a high school coach at age 22 and a Division III head coach at age 25, and the things you do as a head coach, regardless of the level, are universal."
Mooney came to Air Force prior to the 2000-01 season after a two-year stint as head coach at Beaver College (now Arcadia University), a Division III school in Glenside, Pa. Helping take over a program that had not posted a winning season since the 1977-78 campaign, Mooney arrived in Colorado Springs with a new system and a new attitude for the Falcon basketball program.
In his first season as an assistant coach, the Falcons posted an 8-21 record, securing the most Division I wins by a Falcon team since the 1989-90 campaign. The Falcons played their first-ever all-Division I schedule that season. In 2001-02, as Air Force again played an all-Division I schedule, the team captured nine victories, just shy of the school record for the most Division I victories in one season.
The following season, the milestones kept piling up. The Falcons won more games in 2002-03 (12) than in any season since 1989-90, and their 9-4 non-conference record was, at the time, one of the best in school history. They also led the nation in scoring defense, allowing their opponents just 57 points per game. That feat was matched last season when AFA allowed just 50.9 points per game, the lowest average in one season by any NCAA Division I team since the 1992 Princeton Tigers, who had a sophomore starting forward named Chris Mooney.
"Defense has always been a priority with our staff," said Mooney. "Everyone talks about the `Princeton offense', but our defense was the key to our success last season. We strive to stop the other team from scoring as a team, all five guys working hard to make it as difficult as possible for the opponent to score."
Mooney has a history of turning programs around. During his two years at Beaver College, Mooney took a team that had only six players his first season and led the team to eight wins and a playoff berth in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference tournament. His final season there, the team won a school-record 16 games, including a program-best 12-4 conference mark. And as is the case at many Division III institutions, Mooney did more than just coach basketball.
"Officially, I was the Director of Conference Services and in charge of campus scheduling," he said. "I would schedule anything from graduation to summer camps to weddings that were held in a castle we had on campus. Unofficially, I was the equipment manager for the basketball team - washing uniforms and sweeping the floor."
Before coaching at Beaver College, Mooney was the boys basketball coach at Lansdale Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Pa., from 1995-98. In the 40-year history of Lansdale Catholic, the school had won just one league championship. Mooney led the school to three titles, including a district championship, and his 1996-97 squad won a school-record 21 games and advanced to the second round of the state tournament. He was named Philadelphia Inquirer Boys Basketball Coach of the Year for his efforts.
Mooney is a 1994 graduate of Princeton University where he played for Hall-of-Fame coach Pete Carril. The two-year captain started all 107 games in his career and helped the team capture two Ivy League titles and a pair of NCAA tournament berths. He was recognized by the Ivy League all four years at Princeton as he was named runner-up for Rookie of the Year as a freshman, honorable mention all-Ivy his sophomore season, first-team all-Ivy as a junior and second-team all-Ivy his final campaign.
"The things I learned while playing for Coach Carril will stay with me forever and are the things I find myself asking of my players and staff," Mooney said. "He was an outstanding coach. He demanded all of your energy and concentration at every practice and game. No mistake went unnoticed, no matter how major or minor. I will always be indebted to him for the lessons I learned in my four years at Princeton."
A versatile inside and outside player, Mooney hit 142 career three-pointers which ranks sixth all-time at Princeton and shot .412 from behind the arc. During the 1993 season, he averaged 13.5 points per game and shot .515 from the field and .469 from three-point territory. He is ranked 19th on the Princeton career scoring list with 1,071 points and is one of just four players with 1,00 points, 350 rebounds and 200 assist in his career.
Mooney is a two-time winner of the B.F. Bunn Trophy at Princeton, given annually to the varsity basketball player who through sportsmanship, play and influence contributed most to the sport at the school. Mooney won the award in 1993 and '94. He is one of only six players to win the award more than once.
A native of northeast Philadelphia, Mooney grew up playing all kinds of sports with the other kids in the neighborhood. He became a star athlete at Archbishop Ryan High School, which, at the time, was the largest co-ed Catholic high school in the country.
"There were 10 kids within one year of myself that lived on my block, so we played something every single day, whether it was basketball, football or stickball," he said. "I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood and sports played an integral role in our lives."
He led Ryan to a 21-6 overall record as a senior and the Catholic League's Northern Division championship. Mooney was named league MVP and first-team all-city that season.
Now as a Division I head coach at the age of 32, Mooney hopes to continue his winning ways and is excited about the future of Air Force Basketball. "We made consistent strides in our first three seasons here, and last year's team reaped those benefits," he said. "People may think that we came out of nowhere and last season was an overnight success, but I don't think that is totally correct. It is now our responsibility to prove that it was not a fluke."
Mooney and his wife, Lia, have been married for six years and reside in Colorado Springs.