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After 23 years of coaching at Manalapan High School where he built the Braves into one of the top public-school football programs in New Jersey, Ed Gurrieri is stepping down as head coach.

“Right now, I don’t have that burning desire,” Gurrieri said. “Usually, I’m going 1,000 miles per hour but right now that’s not there. Some of it has to do with the uncertainty of whether we’re going to have football or not (in the fall). I haven’t missed a year of coaching since I started in 1983. I’ve been at Manalapan since 1997 and it’s been a great run, but if I can’t go 1,000 miles an hour I can’t do it. Every day when I woke up I hoped it was going to be there but it just hasn’t. At this point, it’s time to take a step back.”

Ed Gurreir celebrates Manalapan's first state sectional title following a 21-7 win over South Brunswick in the 2014 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 5 championship game. (Photo by Bill Normile).

Gurrieri was Manalapan’s head coach for a total of 13 years across two stints, including 10 straight years from 2010 to this past season. His teams never had a losing season and only went 5-5 once, which came during his first year as head coach in 2004. He posted a 109-35 career record with the Braves, good for a .757 winning percentage. The Braves posted double-digit wins in six seasons, including four straight from 2011 to 2014, and won five Shore Conference Class A North division titles, including five in a row from 2010 to 2014.

Manalapan reached six NJSIAA state sectional championship games under Gurrieri, including four in a row from 2011 to 2014. The Braves finally reached the summit in 2014 when they defeated playoff nemesis South Brunswick, 21-7 at Rutgers University, to claim the Central Jersey Group 5 championship and give the program its first sectional title.

“Winning that one and getting over the hump was special,” Gurrieri recalled. “The year before was all those great players – Saeed (Blacknall), (Anthony) Firkser. People knew we were going to be good but not how good. They were under-the-radar guys but we had an unbelievable year.”

In 2011, Gurrieri was selected as the conference Coach of the Year by the Shore Conference Football Coaches Association, and in 2014 was selected as Central Jersey Coach of the Year by the New Jersey Football Coaches Association.

Prior to coming to Manalapan, Gurrieri was the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Susan Wagner High School on Staten Island, which was one of the premier programs in New York City. Susan Wagner won six NYC championships in a 10-year span, had a 48-game winning streak and was ranked 17th in the nation by USA Today.

From 1985 to 1987, Gurrieri coached the running backs at his collegiate alma mater, Wagner College.

He was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2019 at halftime of the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic.

A native of Staten Island, Gurrieri was a three-year starter as a running back at Susan Wagner High School where he achieved First Team All-Staten Island and First Team All-New York City honors. He started his collegiate career at Northeastern University before returning home and playing at Wagner College where he was a two-year starter.

Gurrieri graduated from Wagner College in 1983 and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with a minor in Special Education. He was a high school teacher at Susan Wagner High School before joining the New York Police Department, serving on the force from 1986 to 1993. He retired with a line-of-duty injury and currently works as a security officer at Manalapan High School.

Gurrieri was also heavily involved with the NYPD football team as a starting fullback from 1988-1999 and as the team’s offensive coordinator from 1990-1996.

Photo by Richard O'Donnell.

“This is a great school and a great community. My three kids all graduated from here,” Gurrieri said of Manalapan. “I’ve only had three (football) jobs: Susan Wagner, Wagner College and Manalapan, and it’s been great.”

Since 2010, Manalapan football players have gone on to receive over 40 scholarships, including five to Ivy League schools. Two players played in the NFL this past season with tight end Anthony Firkser (Harvard) playing for the Tennessee Titans and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Penn State) playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Before becoming Manalapan’s head coach, Gurrieri was the Braves’ defensive coordinator from 1997 to 2003. In that seven-year period, Manalapan made five playoff appearances and reached the 2003 Central Jersey Group 4 championship game.

One of his fondest memories as a coach came during the 2003 playoffs when the seventh-seeded Braves upset a juggernaut Brick team, 21-7, in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs. Brick was undefeated and had the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense in the Shore Conference and had surrendered just 18 points all season. Gurrieri was the defensive coordinator and his unit held Brick to just 84 yards rushing on 22 carries. His son, running back Eddie Gurrieri, ran for 104 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

“I think they gave up like two touchdowns the whole year and one of them might have been with backups, but we felt we matched up well,” Gurrieri said. “Our offense was pretty good and we thought our defense was underrated. I think the first play of the game (Eddie) ripped off a typical Manalapan off-tackle play for about a 60-yard touchdown. We played well that night.”

Ironically, another lasting memory for Gurrieri came after a crushing loss. In the 2017 Central Jersey Group 5 final, Manalapan lost to South Brunswick, 18-14, when the Vikings scored the go-ahead touchdown with 53 seconds left in regulation to cap a comeback from a 14-0 deficit. Manalapan appeared to have retaken the lead when star running back Naim Mayfield caught a 29-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left, but the score was waved off after Mayfield was flagged for offensive pass interference.

“That was one of the biggest heartbreakers,” Gurrieri said. “We come back and scored a touchdown to basically win the game and they call pass interference in the end zone. The way our kids conducted themselves after; no throwing tantrums or saying anything to the refs, going over and shaking South Brunswick’s players’ hands. I was so proud of my guys. Very rarely do you think about a loss and how proud you are but they conducted themselves like gentlemen.”

That moment was indicative of Manalapan’s program and a reflection of the man at the top. Manalapan did a ton of winning but also suffered its share of crushing defeats on the doorstep of a state championship. No matter the situation, Gurrieri never avoided questions from the media and always treated reporters with respect. That tricked down to his players, as well.

His legacy at Manalapan will be one of significant winning surrounded by class and dignity.

“The only thing I ever wanted to do at Manalapan was create a family atmosphere and a winning program like I was involved in on Staten Island,” Gurrieri said. “I feel we got that accomplished.”

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.