HAVERHILL — For 37 years, Tim Foley was a fixture in the Newburyport High School coaching community. The longtime track and field coach, who led the Clippers' boys and girls programs to a combined 13 Cape Ann League championships and eight state titles, coached more than 2,000 athletes over his Hall of Fame career.
One of those athletes was Dan Blair, who ran for Foley at Newburyport High between 1999 and 2002 before later entering a career in college athletics administration. Now the athletic director at Northern Essex Community College, Blair recently had an opening for the school's cross country coaching position, and with Foley since retired, he reached out to his former coach to see if he might want the job.
"He texted back laughing saying he'd give it some thought," Blair said. "We talked some more, and he thought about it for a couple weeks, and he told me he was in."
Two years removed from his retirement from Newburyport High, Foley is back in the coaching game. He was officially announced as Northern Essex's cross country coach back in July, and this weekend his teams will open their seasons at the University of New England Invitational in Biddeford, Maine.
"It's interesting for me because I've always done track and field, and this is cross country, so it's an entirely different sport," Foley said. "But it's been great, the kids put in the work and it's been fun."
Foley is himself a Northern Essex alumni, graduating from the school in 1970 before getting his start in coaching about a decade later. Upon taking the job, one of the first challenges Foley had to meet was adjusting to the college level of competition in a different discipline of running than he was used to.
While many of his standouts at Newburyport were accomplished distance runners, Foley never needed them to run any longer than two miles in a race, and even during cross country they typically maxed out at five kilometers (3.1 miles). In college, a typical men's cross country race is eight kilometers (4.97 miles), while the women still run five kilometers.
That hasn't been a problem for Foley, Blair said.
"The type of kid is very similar, from a track kid and a cross country kid, they're like the same person, especially the distance runners. If you've coached the sport at any level, you can pick up on different events or different distances, and he seems to have picked it up with relative ease," Blair said. "He's also been around for almost 40 years coaching the sport at the high school level so he has plenty of friends he can call upon for a piece of advice or two on a workout or a training run for the cross country kids."
Blair had actually tried to bring Foley aboard as Northern Essex's coach once before, offering him the position shortly after he became athletic director in 2017. At that point Foley had just retired and wasn't ready to get back into coaching so soon, but this time he felt the time was right, and with the support of his wife he decided to give it a shot.
Having a chance to work more closely with Blair, one of his former track captains, was another positive, he said.
"It's fun, I see Danny every day, I check in to make sure everything is on the up and up," Foley said. "It's a professional relationship and we're good personal friends."
"It's not a father-son thing obviously, but we have a close relationship and it's gone back since I was a kid," said Blair, who noted that Mike McCarthy, Northern Essex's vice president of administration and finance, also ran for Foley at Newburyport High. "We've always worked well together, gotten along in the classroom, out of the classroom, on and off the track, we know each other and what makes each other tick so it's kind of been, the transition's been easy, there's nothing I haven't expected from him."
While Northern Essex's season is about to begin, Foley said he's always looking for more runners and is encouraging any athletes at Northern Essex who might be interested in cross country to come out. Those who would like to join should contact either him or Blair, he said.