‘He’s a Legend, That’s it’: Former Players Reflect on Late Coach Tom Breznitsky

‘He’s a Legend, That’s it’: Former Players Reflect on Late Coach Tom Breznitsky

Matthew Levine, Sports Editor

photo courtesy of NJ.com

Fire in the belly, ice in the head. 

That’s the message legendary boys soccer coach Tom Breznitsky would drill into 2020 Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Graduate Owen Murphy throughout his high school career. 

“I remember I used to get mad sometimes during games and one thing I’ll never forget, he’ll say ‘fire in the belly, ice in the head,”’ Murphy said. “And he said that to me once just stay calm, stay cool, stay cool in the head, and that’s something that I will literally never forget. When I get mad anymore, I hear his voice in my head, it’s a crazy thing.” 

While Murphy reflected on the impact Breznitsky had on Scotch Plains and himself as a person and player, he sat in the bleachers across from the sideline Breznitsky occupied for 45 years at Shimme Wexler Field. Murphy thought about all of the stories he could tell about Breznitsky  — the speech Breznitsky made when the Raiders were down 2-0 to Westfield when Murphy was a junior (in the second half, the Raiders scored three unanswered goals to win 3-2), the unmatched 761-185-63 record that puts Breznitsky next to the all-time great soccer coaches in not only the state but the nation and Breznitsky’s fierce passion for the game and his players. 

“There’s no Scotch Plains without Coach Brez,” Murphy said. “Scotch Plains would be just another small town on the map if it wasn’t for Coach Brez and solely Coach Brez.” 

 “Just sitting here seeing, now we have the lights, and we have a field, and there’s very few high schools that have a field just devoted to soccer, which we have. Next time you walk up to the field, just know that it’s solely because of what Coach Brez did. I mean, without him this town would be a totally different place. It’s kind of amazing how one person impacted an entire town.” 

Thursday, Jan. 21 marked a somber occasion in Scotch Plains-Fanwood history, as Breznitsky, responsible for building Scotch Plains into a soccer dynasty and winning seven state championships, passed away at 72. Murphy was just one of the hundreds of players Breznitsky touched through his tough love and passionate coaching style. 

“For those four years, and you know where I went from, obviously being a pretty good player to, you know, kind of reaching levels that I didn’t think I’d be able to get to,” Todd Moser 1998 graduate and one of the best players in SPF history said. “You know, [Brez was] extremely hard on me but those guys who could take it and could use it, built themselves up and it made us better and it made us win.” 

Breznitsky didn’t only act as a coach to Moser, he acted as an additional father figure Moser could go to for advice. 

“I mean it’s remarkable and it really goes back to him,” Moser said. “He was tough but when you think about it, you know, you talk about a father [figure], he was raising men. He was teaching you how to become a man. He was not only super hard on me on the field but even off the field. You’re 17, and you’re doing stupid things. You’re getting in trouble maybe in high school and stuff and he’s there to, you know, to kind of smack you around. And I know times have changed, but you just don’t see it enough today.” 

Moser played varsity soccer all four years of high school and the Raiders won the state championship three of those four. Before moving on to Rutgers, where Moser was named All Big East in 2001 and was a team captain from 2001-2003, Moser was named 1st Team All-State in 1997 and 1998 and was recognized as the top player in NJ in 1998 as a senior. During his time in high school and college, Breznitsky was always by his side and they still remained close up until his death. 

“We got extremely close,” Moser said. “He was heavily involved in my college recruiting process and then I went to Rutgers and I don’t think he missed any of my games. He was there the whole way.” 

When Moser suffered a bad injury in college and was out of the game for about 18 months, Breznitsky would frequently check in on him at his parents house in Scotch Plains. 

“He used to come and see me like three or four days a week just to make sure I was hanging in there,” Moser said. 

After Moser graduated college, he got married, moved back to Scotch Plains and began a family that Breznitsky became very close to.  

“I’d be back around the players, around the teams and we stayed close after college, he was at my wedding,” Moser said. “I have three children and my two older sons have become a part of the program. They were on the sideline and my older son has been the ball boy of the team for the last three years.” 

While many people knew Breznitsky for his accomplishments and coaching, Moser saw a different side of Breznitsky: his love for his players and their families. 

“Three years ago on Christmas Eve, our doorbell rang and it was him,” Moser said. “We’re like ‘hey what’s up coach’ and a long time ago when he was in Brazil, he had gotten this little plaque for Ryan, his son. And it was a Pele quote on the plaque that said, ‘When you have the ball you control the game’ and he wanted to give it to my son to pass it along to him for him to have. And that’s the type of stuff that people don’t know. He didn’t have to do that and he showed up out of the blue on Christmas Eve and my son still has it in his bedroom and that type of stuff is special.” 

Murphy believes that the word “legendary” is often overused in today’s society, but when it comes to Breznitsky, “legendary,” is the only term that can begin to describe the impact Coach Brez had on his players and the SPF community. 

“He’s a legend, that’s it,” Murphy said. “I told you his record and I told you how many players he’s put onto colleges and pros. There’s no other way to put it. He’s a legend, that’s it.”