Football: Brick Township hires former Matawan, Allentown head coach Jay Graber as fifth head coach in program history
The Brick Township Board of Education officially approved former Matawan and Allentown head coach Jay Graber as the new head football coach at Brick Township High School during Thursday night's school board meeting.
Graber was Matawan's head coach for the past five seasons and posted a 21-23 record, including leading the Huskies to a 6-3 record and the Shore Conference Liberty Division championship in 2022. Matawan made the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Graber succeeds Len Zdanowicz, who stepped down last month after nine seasons at the helm of his alma mater. Brick went 49-40 during his tenure and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final in 2016 and 2018. Zdanowicz was a former standout center at Brick under legendary head coach Warren Wolf and a longtime assistant before becoming the Dragons' head coach in 2015.
"I would be remiss if I didn't thank Len for his dedication the last nine years," said Brick athletic director Jay Longo. "He did a lot for the kids and our program and he will be missed."
"What makes Jay the right guy for our program is his experience and his leadership qualities. We know his track record and he's done some really good things in the past and shown an ability to get the most out of his teams. He builds programs with culture and respect."
The head coach of the Allentown team that defeated Brick in the 2016 sectional final was Graber, who was Allentown's head coach from 2010 through 2018 and led the Redbirds to the only sectional title in program history. Before Graber became the Redbirds’ head coach in 2010, Allentown had an 11-59 record in the previous seven seasons, including a streak of 31 straight losses from 2005 to 2008. The program had never qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs. Allentown went 6-4 during Graber’s first season, which was the only season during his tenure the Redbirds didn’t make the playoffs. Allentown reached the postseason the next seven seasons, including advancing to the South Jersey Group 3 championship game in 2014 where it fell to Delsea, 43-35 in overtime. Two years later, Allentown did what once seemed impossible by routing Brick, 41-6, to win the Central Jersey Group 4 championship. Graber went 61-34 with seven playoff appearances, two trips to the title game, and one state sectional championship in eight seasons leading Allentown.
Graber said he had no intention of leaving Matawan until the Brick job opened up. Graber, who is a special education mathematics teacher, lives in Ocean County so the combination of Brick's storied football history and the shorter commute was enticing.
"I love Matawan, it's an incredible place and they were always great to me," Graber said. "Brick is the most tradition-rich program in the Shore Conference, if not the state. The district and the building have great leadership and it's a lot closer to home, so for me it was a can't-miss opportunity."
Prior to his coaching career, Graber starred as a left-handed quarterback at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville where he threw for 2,802 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior in 2002. He was selected as the South Jersey Player of the Year and also named to the All-State team by the Star-Ledger. He totaled 4,322 yards passing and 56 touchdowns in two seasons as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback under legendary coach Chappy Moore.
Graber played collegiately at Bryant University where he threw for 1,773 yards and 14 touchdowns in one-plus seasons as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback. He also spent a season at Trinity-Pawling Prep where he was the All-New England Player of the Year in 2003 and spent his freshman and sophomore years at Hofstra University before transferring to Bryant.
"You get a really good candidate pool so it's not a very easy decision, but in the end, we feel we're getting much more than a football coach," Longo said. "We're getting a great staff member and someone who is a leader of men."
Graber goes from one tradition-rich Shore Conference program to another in moving from Matawan to Brick. Both programs are tied for the fifth-most sectional titles in Shore Conference history with seven and have enjoyed great stability at the head coach position. The Dragons became a New Jersey powerhouse under Wolf, the godfather of Shore Conference football, and won seven state championships before the NJSIAA playoff system was implemented beginning in 1974. Wolf was the program's head coach from its inaugural season in 1958 to 2008. Pat Dowling coached the Dragons in 2009 and 2010 before Rob Dahl led the program from 2011 to 2014, including winning the 2013 Central Jersey Group 4 championship. Zdanowicz shepherded Brick for the next nine seasons.
Brick finished 6-5 this past season competing in the Shore Conference's Independence Division with Brick Memorial, Freehold Township, Matawan, Freehold Boro, and Barnegat. This upcoming season they will be in the Shore Conference's newly-aligned Class B South division with Central, Lacey, Toms River East, Toms River South, and Southern.
Graber's hiring at Brick leaves open positions at Matawan, Middletown South, and Shore Regional. Two other open positions were recently filled when Keyport hired Charlie Marsh as head coach Wednesday night and Freehold Boro tabbed Derek Reichenbecher as head coach on Thursday night.