Retiring Football Coach Epitomizes Best of America

"Other than my dad, he's been the most influential person in my life as far as teaching me how to do things the right way, having high character and making that ... an important part of how you conduct yourself. He's been the greatest example I possibly could have had," Brick High School's principal Dennis Filippone said.

"He touched so many lives. He saved souls," Dan Duddy, coach of nearby Monsignor Donovan High School, asserted. "Coach Wolf is without a doubt one of the greatest men another man could meet."

There were a lot of similar sentiments being shared during Wolf's goodbye press conference, where Wolf talked in front of reporters, friends, and family about his move from West New York -- where he was an assistant under his mentor, the famous Coach Joe Coviello -- to a little-known town called Brick, "wherever the hell that is," Wolf jokingly recalled. The year was 1958 and by a stroke of serendipity Wolf was named the first football coach for the new school, a job he retained for over a half century.

What makes Coach Wolf such a rarity nowadays is not only his unprecedented success or his longevity, but his dedication to the same community for so long. After his first, second, or even third of many championships, Wolf could have very easily gone on to bigger and better things than Brick High School football. By his second decade coaching, he had already become a Garden State legend, and no doubt more prestigious, collegiate coaching opportunities presented themselves.

But to do that would mean to leave his church. To do that would mean to leave his friends at Brick High. To do that would mean somebody else would have to collect money for the poor outside the local grocery store during Christmas time.

If he wanted, he could have ended up like his good friend Joe Paterno at Penn State. The two would talk football until the early hours of the morning. "We'd close the bar," says Wolf, recalling how he and a young Paterno used to draw Xs and Os on cocktail napkins.

Instead Wolf chose to stay close to home, serving as mayor of Brick, Ocean County freeholder, and New Jersey assemblyman -- amongst other things -- throughout the years. After his retirement ceremonies last week, Wolf humorously remembered how, when he first moved to Brick in the late 1950s, the town was so desolate it did not even require its own exit on the parkway. How things have changed since then ...

In many ways, Warren Wolf's life is the quintessential twentieth-century American experience: marry the high school sweetheart, join the service, use the G.I. Bill to get through school, and if you're lucky, find a slice of heaven somewhere, settle down, and start a new life. In an era where students coming out of school are looking for work and excitement in the "big city," the aforementioned lifestyle -- Warren Wolf's decision to dedicate himself to Brick -- is on the wane. Rather than bolt the small town for the galore and opportunities of the city, Coach Wolf hung around town long enough until it became a city.

"The world just keeps changing," Brick Mayor Stephen Acropolis said, "but the one thing you could always count on was seeing Warren Wolf marching along the sidelines, encouraging his players."

"Our town is going to be a different place."

They don't really make ‘em like that anymore, do they? It's no longer vogue to turn down prestige over principle. Technology and the information age have made it possible to know the details of what's happening on the other side of the world -- and sometimes we overlook what's happening in our own backyard, with our friends and neighbors. The world has gotten smaller and our worlds have grown bigger. Loyalty to locality means less than what it once meant.

Warren Wolf cared what happened in his backyard. He cared what happened to his friends. "Friendship is treasure," he said to the press conference cameras. He became a grandfather of thousands and an icon of a community, and in the process put a city on the map. Every town in America could use a man like this.