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Finalists for NJ.com’s football Coach of the Year award, 2020

COACH OF THE YEAR

Marion Bell, West Side

At East Orange for 11 strong seasons and for the past five at West Side, Bell has built his reputation upon defensive units that simply do not surrender real estate very readily. His Roughriders had a difficult opener this fall against Nutley, a 31-18 loss, but were back to their standard brand of stinginess the following week against Orange, a 40-14 victory, and thereafter. West Side (5-1) allowed just 47 points in those last five games to raise Bell’s career record to 96-66.

Brian Bowers, Delbarton

2020 had been circled for this Delbarton squad, which featured a 25-player senior class. And even in a pandemic-fueled season, the Morris County program made the most of it behind its longtime coach with a 6-0 season, which included wins over Don Bosco Prep and DePaul to go along with the No. 3 spot in the final Top 20 rankings.

Steve DiGregorio, Nutley

DiGregorio was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just before the start of the 2019 season, underwent six months of chemotherapy treatment that ended last March – just around the time the coronavirus was being acknowledged in this country as a deadly pandemic. Who better to serve as a model of grit and perseverance to the Nutley players than DiGregorio as they tried to navigate through this most challenging season? DiGregorio, a 1979 Nutley grad and former star, directed the Maroon Raiders (6-0) to their first unbeaten campaign since 1939 and first without a tie since 1929.

Dave Ellis, Freehold Borough

One of the most underrated coaches in New Jersey, Ellis is a master at getting the most out of his players, most of whom play both ways in every game. The Colonials finished 6-2 this fall. Its only losses came to once-beaten Colts Neck (36-35) and Rumson-Fair Haven (28-3). Led by an offense overflowing with playmakers, Freehold scored 40 or more points three times and 30 or more three times. The six wins were the most in a season for Freehold since 2017 when it went 8-4.

Brian Glatz, Cherokee

The Chiefs went 5-2 with a statement win over Hun and its losses to state powers Lenape and St. Joseph (Mont.), finding its way back into the Top 20 after a pair of losing seasons – though they finished last year with a sectional championship. It did so with Glatz coaching remotely for much of the year as he was recovering from lymphoma. Glatz helped coach practices and games while watching through technology like IPads and communicating with players and coaches from both his home and for three weeks a hospital bed following a stem cell transplant.

Rob Gogerty, Cedar Grove

Gogerty – a former Cedar Grove quarterback – guided a team largely composed of juniors last year to an 8-4 record and into the North 1, Group 1 final, and this season shaped that offense into an even more efficient group. His squad averaged 36.6 points per game behind the direction of QB Dario Bryant to finish 7-1 against a very challenging schedule. After Gogerty’s Panthers played brilliantly Oct. 9 to snap Verona’s 13-game winning streak, 38-7, they fell the following week to Weequahic, 44-34, but rebounded to win the last five games of the season.

Austin Holman, Scotch Plains-Fanwood

Holman took over a program that had won a total of four games from 2015 through ‘18, and quickly changed the script by directing the Raiders to a 4-6 mark last season. Scotch Plains-Fanwood was forced to miss the first two games this autumn due to positive coronavirus cases within the school, then opened with successive losses to No. 10 Woodbridge and Cedar Grove. The Raiders scratched out a 27-22 win over Linden Nov. 2, then won the next four games behind a solid ground attack and stingy defense to finish 5-2 and become the school’s first since 2007 (at 7-4) to close above .500.

James Magazine, Paterson Eastside

There’s talent throughout the program, and Magazine has put the spotlight on that. In his first two seasons as head coach, Magazine has led Eastside to back-to-back winning seasons, a feat which hasn’t been accomplished in more than a decade. After last year’s team was barred from the playoffs for a midseason fight, Magazine made sure his players learned accountability and it showed as the Ghosts went 5-3, which included a win over Passaic Tech for the first time in 30 years.

Jack Maher, Becton

Maher merged two families on the field during a historic season for Becton. The Wildcats won the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference title with a perfect 6-0 record, with five shutouts and went 22 quarters without giving up a point. Through it all, Maher trusted his football family to get through a personal tragedy — the death of his brother, who died unexpectedly in October at 39 years old. Many of Becton’s key contributors were pushed into action early in their careers and that experience helped turn in a season for the ages in what coincided with the 100th year of high school football in East Rutherford.

Matt Parzero, Newton

Whether it’s been at North Warren or at his current stop in Newton, Parzero has gotten the most out of his roster. That’s especially true for a season that started off in the worst way possible – an early shutdown and two weeks of canceled games. That didn’t deter this Braves team, which will have plenty of returning talent scheduled to be back in Sussex County next year, as it bullied its way to a 6-0 record where, outside of a walkoff win over Lenape Valley, Newton outscored its opponents by an average of over five touchdowns.

Jon Simoneau, Bernards

Simoneau’s club lost a heartbreaking season opener against Hillside, 14-9, but was the one dispensing pain the rest of the way with an explosive and well-balanced attack that has become the team’s trademark under its 13th-year coach. Bernards rang up 35.7 points per game this season to finish 8-1, which raised its mark to 73-29 over the past 10 years. Simoneau brought the 2016 Mountaineers to the Central Jersey, Group 2 final, but has not yet been able to secure a championship. This year’s senior-rich squad seemed to be well-equipped to fulfill that goal.

Kenny Scott, Winslow

Scott led the Eagles to the program’s first winning season since 2010. Winslow went 5-1, beginning with a statement win over Camden, and cracked the Top 20 rankings. The Eagles played ferocious defense and they established themselves as one of South Jersey’s best teams, earning a spot in the West Jersey Football League’s top postseason pod.

Dallas Whitaker, Somerville

Former Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek resurrected a flagging Somerville program with a Central Jersey, Group 3 championship in 2017, then handed the reins the next year to a smart, self-assured 25-year-old with an eye for battering opposing defenses. The Pioneers have gone 28-3 in Whitaker’s three seasons, including 7-0 this fall with a no-huddle offense that produced 46.7 points per game. Rahway and No. 10 Woodbridge each suffered its only loss at the hands of Somerville by a combined score of 85-38.

Brian Wilkinson, Manchester Township

Wilkinson, who made prior head coaching stops at Toms River South and Pinelands, led the Hawks to a 5-3 record – their first winning season since 2010. Among their victories was a 12-3 victory over Lacey in the season opener. Manchester Township won five of its first six games, including four in a row between Weeks 3 and 7. Before 2020, Manchester had not scored 40 points in a game since 2013. In 2020, the Hawks did it twice.

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