SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Former players, colleagues, and members of the community are sharing their memories of longtime Scotch Plains-Fanwood HS soccer coach Tom Breznitsky, who died on Thursday morning.
Coach Brez amassed an incredible record of 761-185-63 and built the Raiders into one of the top soccer programs in New Jersey. During his 45-year career, he captured seven state championships, 19 sectional titles, and 19 Union County titles. He was a larger than life figure on the sidelines in Scotch Plains-Fanwood for nearly half a century.
Mike Walch, who was an assistant to Coach Brez during the soccer program's golden years in the 1980s-90s, said that a key to his success was that he wasn't afraid to play anybody.
"He was fearless and wanted to play the best. He would strategically pick teams that were strong and in different counties," Walch said. "The first time we played St. Benedicts, we played at Kean College on a football Sunday and drew 3,000 fans. It was unbelievable."
Walch said three elements enabled Scotch Plains-Fanwood to become a powerhouse.
"He set expectations, demanded excellence, and had a great feeder program," Walch said. "He gave great motivational talks. He would talk about players who had been here and what they'd done. He was a positive role model, mentor, and teacher for all his players."
Coach Brez also benefited from having exceptional players in the early years of his tenure: Alex Passucci, Victor Passucci, Lino DiCuollo, and Rick Johnson.
"They were good, and other kids wanted to play with them," Walch said, noting that some of his players, including Passucci and longtime assistant Joe Mortarulo came back to coach alongside Brez later in his career.
"People outside the circle do not realize what he did. To quote the old song ‘We Built This City on Rock and Roll,’ he used to always say we ‘Built this city on SPF soccer’," said former player Todd Moser, a senior when the Raiders won their last state title in 1998. "We stayed very close over the years after I finished college and continued raising a family of my own in SPF, where coach was able to meet and begin a relationship with my two sons."
Christian Zazzali played for Brez in high school and later won a national championship at Tufts in college. He said the coach would call out even his team captains if he did not think they were working hard enough.
"At a routine practice my senior year, we were working on man-marking. Coach Brez paired us off with someone on the team, and it was our job to follow that person as closely as possible until he said stop. Even though I was not close to being the most skilled player on the team, I was always one of the more athletic. Being cocky and unconcerned that my man would ever get more than a few feet from me, I guess my less-than-100%-attitude caught coach's eye. I heard Coach shout from the sideline, 'Zazzali, you’re telling me that’s as tight as you can be?!”
"I was shocked he called me out. My guy wasn’t nearly as far from me as some other guys competing on the team. For the next 60-second round of the drill, I embodied Primetime Deion Sanders -- I had my hand glued to my partners hip. I was pissed," Zazzali recalled. "Coach just smiled. It wasn’t until years later how valuable those challenges were."
Brez was unafraid to challenge anyone, including officials, whom he sometimes called out publicly after Raiders' losses. He was known for riding players hard and didn't sugarcoat his critiques. Like many successful sports coaches, he wasn't always warm and fuzzy. However, he forged relationships with former players that lasted long after their days on the pitch were over.
Alex Passucci was one of the stars of Brez's championship teams in the early days of the program. Later, he was selected to be his successor before the 2020 season.
"I will never forget his kind words and support I received from him after I was named head coach of the boys varsity soccer team. We spoke often and our conversation never ended without him reminding me to call him if I needed anything and/or had a question," Passucci told TAPintoSPF. "I will miss our post-game conversations. I thought there would be many more."
"Brez will never be forgotten. It's a very sad day for the Scotch Plains-Fanwood soccer community," Passucci added.
"It has been a tough day for me. Brez was a mentor and a friend. He taught generations of young men how to compete at the highest level and to work towards common goals and become better members of our community," said former player and longtime assistant Joe Mortarulo. "He was an absolute constant in the soccer landscape. Simply a legend!"
Some more comments from former players:
- "It didn’t matter who you were, he was always pushing us to be the best individual we could be because, at the end of the day, it benefited the team and program. Coach Brez was one of a kind." -- Christian Zazzali (Class of 2014)
- "Out of all the years we had been together, all the championships, I think it was when the Raiders lost to Elizabeth in the sectional finals two years ago when Brez told me he got most upset seeing my 8-year-old son, who was a ball boy, crying his eyes out on the sideline when it really hit him. To me, that sums it up. He had built generations of Raiders." -- Todd Moser (Class of 1998)
- "While he often could be a polarizing individual, Coach Brez's contributions to the Scotch Plains soccer community are unquestioned. He built a legacy here. Our prayers and best wishes go out to his family," -- Andrew Bondarowicz, 2nd VP of the NJ Youth Soccer Executive Committee and former president of the SPF Soccer Association.
- "Playing for Coach Brez was a great experience I will carry with me throughout my life. His dedication and passion for the game was contagious. Brez had all of the qualities of a great coach, he knew when to be hard on players and when to have fun with the team." - Ari Rosenzweig (Class of 2016)
- “Coach Brez taught us what it’s like to be professional and committed, what it’s like to win, and what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than yourself. He showed us what representing Scotch Plains was all about: excellence, tradition, and family. It was inscribed in us that when we win, we win for the town, for each other, and for the players who came before us or will come after us.” -- Jordan and Zachary Cimring (Class of 2016)
- "His passion, dedication, and commitment to the Raider Soccer program was second to none. He built one of the best high school soccer programs in the country. It was a privilege to be part of it. Brez is a legend. His accomplishments are impressive but most importantly he had a positive impact on so many student athletes. Off the field, he was always there when you needed him." - Alex Passucci, SPFHS boys soccer coach.