Thousands Turn Out To Mourn Coach Warren Wolf

Photo by Chris Christopher

  BRICK – Nov. 29 is known as Black Friday, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

  Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, will also be known as Green and White Friday in Brick Township.

  An estimated 10,000 mourners paid homage to their idol, legendary Brick Township High School football coach Warren Wolf. He died at the age of 92 on Friday, Nov. 22, of natural causes at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.

  A feature of the six-hour viewing, which took place inside the school’s auditorium, was a slideshow depicting Wolf’s life on and off the field. Lines of mourners stretched outside the building in 41-degree temperatures in breezy conditions under sunny skies – Warren Wolf Weather – tough to pass the ball in. Wolf often disdained the forward pass in favor of punishing ground assaults.

  Wolf’s family declined to be interviewed by the media Friday when the school was closed because of the Thanksgiving holiday. The Brick Township Police Department and school officials barred the media from the auditorium to protect the family’s privacy.   

  The viewing was emotional for ex-Brick standout T.J. Ventorino, the first player to arrive wearing a green and white varsity football jacket. He played inside linebacker and right guard as a junior when Brick won the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title in 1994.

  Ventorino walked the Green Dragons’ field prior to the viewing.

A sign in front of Brick Township High School salutes Warren Wolf. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

  “That walk brought back a lot of memories,” he said through tears. “The walk was tough on my eyes. I cried like a baby. I never cried so much in my life. Coach Wolf is Brick Township. He pointed me in the right direction (Ventorino works in the road department of the Brick Township Public Works Department). He pointed you in the right direction even when the rest of the world would look at you and probably turn its back.”

  Ventorino and ex-Brick player Robert Lutkiewicz made a banner to honor Wolf. Ventorino said school officials told him it will fly at each Brick home football game.  

  “It came out real well,” Ventorino said. “It didn’t take long for us to make it. It pays coach Wolf respect. He has done so much for me.”

  Paul Panuska and Bill Brunner attended the viewing together. Both played and coached under Wolf.

  “Coach Wolf means everything to me,” Panuska said. “He got me into college at the University of Southern Connecticut. He got me a job in Brick (as a physical education teacher and coach). I coached under him for 13 years.”

  Brunner, a physical education teacher at the Lake Riviera Middle School in Brick and the Green Dragons’ girls track coach, said he knew Wolf for 57 years.   

  “He gave me direction,” Brunner said. “I am the person I am today because of coach Wolf. He was my mentor. I coached under coach Wolf for 17 years.”        

  “We loved the man,” said Panuska, who played on the Green Dragons’ SJ IV championship team in 1974. “This is a sorry day for Brick. We thought he might live forever. You will never find another coach like coach Wolf.”

  About halfway through the viewing, a gathering took place among former Brick players and coaches as the temperature dipped to 34 degrees under a crescent moon in the middle of the football field. Many wore Brick varsity football jackets.

  Donovan Brown, who played and coached under Wolf, led approximately 50 persons in a pride clap. Former Brick player Ray Schlauch led the group in a prayer of thanks for Wolf’s guidance to his players and coaches and off the field.

  Ex-Brick standout Art Thoms, who played for Syracuse University and the Oakland Raiders, attended the viewing and the gathering. He wore an Oakland hat as he spoke at the gathering.   

  “If it were not for coach Wolf and the discipline that coach Wolf instilled in me, I never would have had the career I had,” said Thoms, who flew from Paris to attend the ceremony. “I was a skinny kid at the age of 17 and coach Wolf told me I should attend prep school before going to college. Coach Wolf received his values system from God and that is what our whole damn country is missing. God led him to make the decisions that he did.”

  Another speaker said during the gathering, “America has George Washington. Brick Township has Warren Wolf.”

Warren Wolf fans Paul Panuska, Joe Aulisi and Bill Brunner (from left to right) attended the viewing. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

  “We are all going to miss him,” Brown told the gathering. “We never felt he was going to die. I think of him as my second father. He got you out of trouble and set you on the right path. Nobody else has the heart and soul that we have. It all comes from coach Wolf.”

  It was announced at the gathering that a social will take place Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Bricktown Elks Lodge for Brick’s ex-football players and coaches and other members of  the Green Dragons’ football family.      

  A sign in green writing on the message board in front of the school said, “RIP Coach Wolf. Your Legacy Will Live On Forever.” A memorabilia board in a hallway near the auditorium memorialized Wolf’s storied career. The American flag flew at half staff at Brick Township High School. The American flag and other flags flew at half staff at the Brick Township Municipal Building across the street from the high school.

  A large American flag flew from the hook and ladder truck of Laurelton Fire Company No. 1. The company, the Brick Township Police Department (led by Sgt. Jim Kelly), the Brick Township Emergency Medical Services Department and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department assisted at the viewing.

  Even the media got into the act as veteran Jersey Shore journalist Karen Wall wore a Brick Township High School girls soccer varsity jacket from her playing days with the Green Dragons.            

  Wolf touched the lives of many, including Ron Signorino Sr., who served as an assistant coach under the Silver Fox for several seasons. Signorino and his son, Ron Signorino Jr., worked under Wolf on the same staff. Wolf was 9-7 against the elder Signorino’s Toms River (later known as Toms River South) teams. Brick won the first four games of the series, beating the Hitting Indians in 1964-67.

  “Coach Wolf was a very special human being,” Signorino Sr. said. “He was a complete gentleman on and off the football field and an extremely determined competitor when coaching his beloved game of football. I consider it one of the greatest highlights of my life that he considered me one of his dearest friends. I know that he is drawing up another winning game plan with St. Peter and all of the other saints in Heaven.”

  Wolf retired as the state’s career wins leader at 361-122-11 after guiding the Green Dragons for 51 seasons. He decided to stop leading the green and white on Dec. 1, 2008 at the age of 81 at a ceremony/press conference at Brick. He was Brick’s first on-the-field coach in school history. Wolf led Brick to six sectional titles, eight undefeated seasons, 42 winning seasons and 31 division championships, including 25 in the Shore Conference.

  Wolf returned to the sidelines for one season in 2010, coaching Lakewood to a 3-7 record, snapping the Piners’ Shore Conference-record 33-game losing streak.

  Wolf deeply touched the life of former Brick standout Todd Durkin, who starred at quarterback, free safety, punter and kicker during the middle and late 1980s. Durkin, whose son, Luke, is a star high school quarterback in San Diego, made a video about Wolf and flew from San Diego for the viewing.

  “I speak with tears of pride and tears of gratitude as I had the opportunity to play for this man,” Durkin said. “I played for an icon and played for a legend. He made Brick a better place to live, the Shore Conference a better place to be and New Jersey a better place to live. To me, that’s impact. One word I would use to summarize coach Wolf is ‘impact.’ The world has lost a legend.”

Former Brick Township High School football star T.J. Ventorino spoke emotionally of his coach, Warren Wolf, at the viewing for the Silver Fox. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

  Durkin, wearing his green and white varsity football jacket, lined up in a hallway to pay his respects to his beloved coach.

  “Heaven’s gain. Heaven’s gain,” he said as others listened.      

  Wolf gave motivational speeches to the staff at Larson Ford, a Lakewood motor vehicle dealership.

  “Coach Wolf made tens of thousands of people better,” said Durkin, a motivational speaker and the author of three books.   

  Durkin was one of three Durkins to play under Wolf. Durkin recalled how he watched a brother, Paul Durkin, quarterback Brick to the 1974 SJ IV title with a win over the heavily favored Camden Panthers. Another brother, Steve, wore the green and white.

  “I was hanging on the fence at the age of five and watched coach Wolf enter the field through a gate,” Todd Durkin said. “He had on his gray suit, his high topped boots and his hat. I knew by the way people treated him at the game that he was someone different.”

  A highlight of Todd Durkin’s career was host Brick’s playoff win over Camden on Keller Memorial Field at the Warren H. Wolf Sports Complex. A nearby school is named the Warren H. Wolf Elementary School.

  “A stream of former Brick players greeted us at the gate to the field and they wore their varsity football jackets,” he said. “My entire life flashed before me as the players I watched at the age of five cheered for me. Brick football is all about tradition. I had the chance to see an icon do his work. It was like playing for Lombardi, Wooden and Papa Bear Halas.”                             

  Todd Durkin, who as a personal trainer and businessman hosted a fitness event in 2016 attended by Wolf at Brick, said home games were extra special.

  “I’d see the flags flying, hear the band playing and see the cheerleaders cheering,” he said. “It was led by the orchestra master, who led our beloved Green Dragons. Coach Wolf shaped my life in every way. He was like a second father. He was always at each Pop Warner (football league game) taking notes of his next crop of young men.

  “When I was in the eighth grade at Vets (the Veterans Memorial Middle School), he walked up to me and took me to Brick so that I could watch his players practice. He said, ‘Todd, you have a future in football at Brick Township High School.’ “

  One coach whose team bested Lakewood was Dan Duddy, Central Regional’s head coach who played and coached under Wolf.

  “I hated beating him because it was obvious coach Wolf was aging,” Duddy said. “I hated losing to him in 1994 (in a sectional championship game). And I hated beating him in 2010.”

  Wolf coached his last game, a Lakewood win over host Toms River South, in rain and sleet, on Thanksgiving Day. The Piners attempted to carry their beloved coach, his body showing its age, off the field on their shoulders. However, coach Wolf’s son, Warren Charles Wolf, who played and coached under his dad at Brick, would have none of it.

  “There was one thing I noticed so evidently: Those Lakewood kids adored him and he truly loved them,” Duddy said. “They never compromised anything that he was on the practice field. And they rose up to that like we did when I was at Brick. So not much changed, I guess. Expectations, intensity and love are so fundamental.”

  Wolf’s tenure at Lakewood was eventful. The room where he was named coach by the Lakewood Board of Education was crowded as the townspeople anticipated his approval. Once his appointment became legal, the crowd roared its approval.

Warren Wolf’s teams earned numerous trophies. (Photo by Chris Christopher)

  John Craddox, then Lakewood’s athletics director, took note of those who wondered whether Wolf could work his magic at an advanced age in an urban district after coaching in a suburban district, stating after the vote, “We don’t practice age discrimination in Lakewood.”

  Wolf’s appointment in Lakewood was big news. His players-to-be consulted newspaper articles as they sought to learn of his legend. The Associated Press wrote a huge piece about him.

  And Wolf was featured on a lengthy show on ESPN. While being driven from group to group of his players in a golf cart with the cameras rolling, Wolf, an avid golfer, asked with a smile, “Is this the 19th hole?”

  Wolf produced numerous head coaches. One is current Brick coach Len Zdanowicz, who played and coached under Wolf.

  “He meant so much to many of us,” Zdanowicz said. “I’m fortunate to have had him in my life.”

  Often asked by scribes late in his career how much longer he would continue to coach the Green Dragons, Wolf said, “I will coach as long as I have my health and as long as the board of education will have me.”

  Asked in the waning days of his career how he would like to be remembered as Brick’s coach, Wolf said, “I would like to be remembered as someone who did what was right.”

Click here to read Chris Christopher’s full story about Warren Wolf.