Retiring Football Coach Epitomizes Best of America

Every now and then, there comes along a local story that warrants greater attention because it represents a microcosm of America. That one of the most successful high school football coaches in the country has called it quits is such a story. Warren Wolf, who coached longer and notched more victories than anyone to ever coach in New Jersey, officially retired last week after coaching Brick Township's Green Dragons for 51 seasons. Wolf, who turned 81 years young this season, finished his legendary career with two words: "It's time."

In his five-plus decades walking the Brick sidelines, Wolf coached his way into the history books, finishing with an astounding record of 361-122-11. He coached eight undefeated teams, with 42 winning seasons and only three years with a losing record. His teams won 31 divisional titles, 13 sectional championships, and six state championships.

"I remember every detail of my career because football is my life and has been my dedication," Wolf said during his retirement press conference. "My wife, Peggy, came before football and football came before everything else. Nothing ever gets in the way of football and that's what I expected from my boys and my coaches."

I was one of Coach Wolf's players seven years ago. It was sophomore year and nearly all of my friends with whom I played street ball were on the school team -- except me -- and they convinced me to try out, which I did. While I didn't see much playing time on varsity that year, Coach Wolf never played favorites or held certain kids to different standards. He was as equally respectful, demanding, and interested in his backup players, such as me, as he was with his starters and all-conference stars.

Coach was a tough, no-nonsense kind of guy, and during practices he'd often "get in there" himself, mixing it up physically with young men one-fourth his age and twice his size -- an in-your-face style that was unexpected from a grandfatherly figure.

But while his practices were long, brutal, and disciplined, he would never miss an opportunity to inquire about the personal needs of all his players. Between drills, he was likely to ask, in his musky Clint Eastwood-like voice, "How's school going, Nicky?" If he knew the father or mother of a player was sick, he'd call that player aside and offer assistance and sincere empathy. After games, he would visit injured players in the hospital -- both players on our team and the opposing teams. He was as personally invested in the happiness and well-being of the people around him as anyone I have ever met.

Coach used football as a conduit to life lessons. Practices were often a seminar on manhood as much as they were about better blocking from the offensive line. After 9/11, he talked to us about his own wartime experiences in "the big one," World War II. Like some sage, he'd offer advice, even if inadvertently: "In football and in life, boys, it's hit or be hit. Hit or be hit."

While football was a way of life for him, Wolf's impact on Brick, New Jersey, can hardly be limited to the football field. His effect on this town cannot be measured in sports terms alone.