Tom Reilly has guided the Ocean Township High School boys soccer team to hundreds of victories as the Spartans’ head coach.
His 400th career win came in a 1-0 overtime conquest of Manasquan.
“Ultimately,” he said, “it’s just a number, but I think it was great motivation for the team to be a part of the quest. I received tons of e-mails, texts and tweets that night. I received my 15 minutes of fame. I knew it could be my 400th win. I am generally not a nervous type on the sidelines. Were the boys nervous before the match? Not that I was aware. I never told them or talked about 400 wins, but apparently one of the parents knew about it and told the team.
“Of course, my original coaching mentor, my dad, was at the game. My parents have been amazing supporters of Ocean soccer for the past 32 years. They’ve seen hundreds of our games as well all of those Brick High School (Reilly starred for the Green Dragons) games back in the 1970s. Many of my peers in the high school and college coaching fraternities sent me texts, tweets and e-mails after the match.”
Reilly’s record at Ocean was 401-184-43 through Saturday, Oct. 8.
“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” he said. “It’s just a number at the end of the day. I would hope that people wouldn’t judge whether I’m a decent coach based on getting 400 as opposed to 375 or 250 or any other random number. Hopefully, giving my players a good soccer education and a good high school soccer experience and representing Ocean Township High School in a positive light are the benchmarks.”
Ocean pressured Manasquan for the goal.
“A superb cross by Ivan Molina was met six yards from the goal by Steve Carton and a Manasquan defender,” Reilly said. “The defender turned the ball into his own net while challenging for the ball.”
Ocean keeper Max Winter made six saves.
Reilly said it was a hard fought victory.
“It was a very even first half with neither side getting clear scoring chances,” he said. “Ocean had possession and territorial advantage in the second half, but the final pass and/or finish were not high enough quality to break down the Manasquan defense or beat their excellent goalkeeper.”
Reilly’s assistant coaches are Jeff Soares, Enzo Franze’ (junior varsity) and John Terlecsky (freshman). Soares has been Reilly’s varsity assistant for the past five seasons and played keeper for the Spartans. Franze’ and Terlecsky also played for Reilly at Ocean.
Art Wankmuller was Reilly’s varsity assistant for his first 27 seasons at Ocean.
“Art and I shared a ton of great moments together with multiple league, Shore Conference and state titles, including NJSIAA Group III overall in 1996,” Reilly said. “Jeff has been a great addition to our staff as a goalkeeper specialist. It’s really special to be together as a coaching staff.”
A member of this year’s team is sophomore defender Zach Sintic, whose dad, Jim, played on Reilly’s first team at Ocean in 1985. Zach Stintic started at left back against Manasquan. His dad was on the club that got Reilly his first career win, a conquest of Long Branch.
“Of course, I need to thank the late John Sintic, who was a major factor in me coming to teach and coach in Ocean Township,” said Reilly, a health and physical education teacher at the Wanamassa Elementary School in Ocean. “He’s like the Godfather of Ocean soccer. His own sons have been teammates of mine in adult leagues as well as players for me at Ocean. His grandson is on the team this year so the Sintic thread runs deep through Ocean soccer. It’s fair to say I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mr. Sintic.”
Reilly, 55, said he will retire from teaching this year.
“My future is really up in the air,” he said. “I still enjoy the challenge and love the game, but I honestly don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing a year from now. I’m just enjoying the current team and season and am happy to be along for the ride. I’ve been blessed to have the two best jobs in the world for the past 32 years with teaching at Wanamassa and coaching soccer at Ocean Township High School.”
Ocean has also won several Shore Conference Class A North and Class B North titles, four Shore Conference Tournament crowns and five Central Jersey Group III championships.
“I am totally committed to the sport and our program,” he said. “I study the game at many levels from youth up to professional to stay current on tactics and training methods. I watch more soccer than is probably healthy. So, obviously I am super passionate about the sport and I think that translates to our players. I really enjoy the challenge of putting the team together each year to maximize our potential as a group. The players and team dynamics change every year so it’s cool to try to solve the puzzle and get the pieces fitting together.”
The former University of South Carolina player offered advice for young coaches and to those who want to take up coaching.
“Coaching is a lot more involved than it may appear,” Reilly said. “There are so many factors and variables that impact on the team dynamic and performances. I would advise to pay attention to the most important ones and not get distracted from the big picture. The hard part is we frequently don’t know which of these variables will have the most impact until after the fact.
“There are also factors outside of the team such as athletic directors, parents, teachers, maintenance personnel, club coaches and referees who you will need to interact with and maintain a professional relationship.”
Reilly said he enjoys watching players develop.
“The most rewarding aspect of coaching is watching the team and the individual players within it develop over the season or their career,” he said. “When all of the pieces come together and the team achieves some target like a championship or even just winning a particular game, it’s like a symphony. Winning a championship with a team–that shared experience of striving for and achieving a goal together–is incredible. I’ve been blessed with many great players and people who have helped make that happen here in Ocean.”
There are times when Reilly must deal with disappointment and frustration.
“They are mostly things that are out of your direct control that can negatively impact what you are working for,” he said. “And there’s the occasional adolescent brain fade. I need to keep reminding myself what it was like to be 16 years old.”
Reilly has seen changes in the sport.
“High school soccer has evolved over the years for sure,” he said. “There are many more sophisticated players on every team now. The coaches are all former players who grew up playing soccer as their number one sport. The advent of artificial turf fields has changed the landscape of high school soccer as well. The tactics have changed and team formations have evolved, but at the end of the day it’s really a simple game and the basic skills required to play it well haven’t changed.
“I think if you transported from 1985 directly to 2016 you would notice a stark contrast, but by being involved year by year the changes are more organic and less stark or noticeable. As Johan Cryuff said, ‘Football is the simplest game to play, and the most difficult to play well.’ ”
Reilly has maintained close relationships with his Spartans beyond their playing days.
“The relationships I have been fortunate enough to have with our players and even parents of players over the years have been awesome,” he said. “I’ve been to many weddings and other social events of former players.”
A highlight is the Ocean Alumni Soccer Game, which has taken place on Christmas Eve morning every year since 1990 at the bubble at GoodSports USA in Wall Township.
“They come out of ‘retirement’ to kick it around with their former teammates,” Reilly said. “This year, we had an Alumni Night at our home game against Manasquan and about 30 former players attended to see the current team play, then went out together afterwards to relive former glories. It was a lot of fun to see everyone together again.”
Playing under then coach Woody French at Brick, Reilly helped the Green Dragons to three Class A South titles, two Ocean County Tournament crowns and two NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championships from 1976-78. A teammate was Rob Bechtloff, the head boys soccer coach at Central Regional. Reilly and Bechtloff were first-team all-state selections. Reilly played four years of varsity soccer at South Carolina, leading the team in scoring in 1981.
Reilly was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Hall of Fame in 2013.
Reilly met the woman who would become his wife at a youth soccer tournament in Gettysburg, Pa. He coached the couple’s two sons throughout their youth soccer careers and watched them play high school ball at Brick Memorial. They have traveled as a family to a World Cup in Germany and to two English League Cup finals in London to see their favorite team, Liverpool, play in 2012 and 2016.
The family has attended many domestic soccer events. Reilly’s wife and sons are regulars at Darcy’s Tavern in Bradley Beach where they watch EPL matches and international tournaments.
“It’s safe to say that soccer has played and continues to play massive roles in our lives,” Reilly said.
Reilly began playing recreational soccer in Brick around 1967 under the lights at St. Dominic’s Church.
“Playing under the lights was the coolest thing ever,” he said. “My older brother started playing so I was just following in his footsteps. Nobody had lit fields in the 1960s so to be able to play soccer under the lights was really special. I know I was hooked immediately. Soccer is all action all the time. … continuous play, freedom to move anywhere on the field–and I loved to score goals. As I got older, I developed a fascination for the finer points of the game like tactics, positioning and systems or styles of play.”