MANALAPAN – Ed Gurrieri has been a football coach at Manalapan High School since 1997, including two stints as head coach.


He just completed his 12th season as head coach leading the Braves to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group V semifinal with a team decimated by graduation plus the loss of first-team All-Shore linebacker Tommy Pearce to a season-ending injury during the preseason.


But with Gurrieri at the helm, Manalapan has been able to consistently overcome whatever obstacles stand in their way of contending for championships on a yearly basis.


In his 12 seasons as head coach, except for his first season when his team finished 5-5, Manalapan has finished with a winning record, including five, 11-win seasons and one, 10-win season.


On Sept. 28 of this year, Manalapan beat long-time rival Howell, 34-0, for Gurrieri’s 100th career coaching victory.


“My coaches knew (about the record) but we never brought it up to the team; we never said a word,” Gurrieri said of the record. “The parents picked up on it though and had a banner made with the wins on it. So, when the game was over, they rolled out the banner and I was very surprised to say the least. I didn’t realize the team or the parents knew. I never talked about it, but it was a really nice gesture on everyone’s part.”


Gurrieri’s teams have qualified for the state playoffs every year, except his first season in 2004, reaching the finals six times and semifinals four times. The Braves have also won seven division titles in the last nine seasons.


In 2014 as the third seed, Manalapan beat top-seeded South Brunswick, 21-7, to capture the program’s first-ever state title.  


The Braves finished 6-4 this season, running Gurrieri’s career record to 104-31.Two of their losses came by a combined score of four points and in their 24-14 loss to No. 14 Sayreville in the Central Jersey Group V semifinals, it was a seven-point game with under two minutes remaining before the Bombers kicked a field goal to ice the game.


Gurrieri is a retired New York City police officer from Staten Island. He played high school ball at Wagner High School in Staten Island and went on to play at Wagner College as a running back under legendary coach Walt Hameline.


After graduating college, he coached at Wagner High School and eventually at Wagner College as an assistant coach in charge of running backs under Hameline. He often worked the midnight shift as a police officer in order to continue coaching the game he loved. 


In 1997, he moved to Manalapan where, through a mutual friend at Syracuse University, he was introduced to then Manalapan head coach Steve Bush – the current Middletown North head coach. A short time later, Bush reached out to Gurrieri offering a job, and he joined Bush’s staff that fall as an assistant.


Bush left to become an assistant coach at Syracuse in 2000 and defensive coordinator Tom Tarver was elevated to head coach with Gurrieri promoted to defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.


In 2004, Gurrieri replaced Tarver, who accepted a vice principal job at Jackson Memorial after going 21-21 in four seasons at Manalapan. In those three seasons as head coach, Gurrieri’s teams went 19-12, reaching NJG IV semifinals in 2005 and finishing 8-3.


Gurrieri stepped down as head coach after three seasons in 2006 so that he could be able to watch his son play on Saturdays for Sacred Heart University, but stayed on as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator, with Tom Gallahue taking over as head coach.


“Once I knew my son was going to start getting on the field I stepped back and became the defensive coordinator,” Bush said. “As the defensive coordinator I didn’t have the work load that I did as head coach so I was able to get out there and watch his games.”


With Gurrieri now on a semi-sabbatical from his head coaching duties, the Braves went 6-4, 5-5 and 5-5 in those three years and failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of those years.


In 2010, Gurrieri began his second stint as head coach, taking the reins from Gallahue, who was promoted to assistant principal at Manalapan and as an administrator he was ineligible to coach football.


It was around this time that Gurrieri methodically transformed the Manalapan program into the program it is today – one the most feared football programs in the state.


“It was a combination of a lot of things,” said Gurrieri when asked about the growth of the program under his leadership. “But when I became a full-time employee here at Manalapan doing security that was the biggest turning point. Having my eyes on the guys all the time and interacting with them all the time in the building has been the biggest difference. Being a head coach is tough to just show up in the afternoon for practice and not be here all day with the kids.


“When you’re here all day you really get to know who everybody is,” Gurrieri added. “I get to keep my eyes open for kids who aren’t playing and get them to come out for the team and I wouldn’t have noticed them had I not been in the building. It’s also easier to keep kids in line and check in with teachers being a resource for them and letting them know if a kid is out of line they can come to me and I can help straighten them out again.”


In 2009, the Braves went 5-5, but a year later in 2010 with Gurrieri back in charge, Manalapan improved to 8-3 advancing to the CJG IV semifinals.


A year later in 2011, the Braves went 10-2 and reached the program’s second sectional final, and first since his son’s senior year in 2003, before losing, 23-11, to Sayreville.


Next came two straight 11-1 seasons that ended with losses in the sectional finals, before finally breaking through in 2014 and capturing the program’s first state title, finishing with an 11-1 record and ranked 10th in the state.


“That was huge,” said Gurrieri of getting that first state championship. “It just validated all the hard work the guys put in and it was special. We don’t have a team, we have a program here, and a program doesn’t worry about graduation losses. We have a program that year in and year out competes for championships and the kids believed. I think the win validated what we do here and their belief in what we do.”


The Braves posted 11-1 records in both 2016 and 2017, but both years ended in losses in the CJG IV finals. In their 18-14 loss to South Brunswick in 2017, star running back Naim Mayfield’s game winning 29-yard touchdown reception with three seconds left was waved off after an official called a very questionable offensive pass interference penalty on Mayfield that robbed the Braves of the program’s second state title.


Not to worry. There undoubtedly will be another championship banner to hang for the Braves and it could come as soon as next season when the Braves return the bulk of this year’s varsity squad and will welcome members of an undefeated freshmen and one-loss J.V. team to the Tribe. And the beat goes on.