Growing up in Roselle Park, New Jersey, John Jacob enjoyed playing baseball and basketball. However, as Jacob grew older, he gravitated more to football. On the high school football team Jacob played outside linebacker.
“A great experience, I built up a lot of lifelong friendships while I was there,” said John Jacob. “It was a really tough, blue collar neighborhood and I grew up around a lot of kids who had an appreciation for all the simpler things in life.”
Spending two years attending Kean University, Jacob moved on to Westfield High School, where he coached for a couple of years. The big break for Jacob would culminate with being named the head coach of the West Orange High School football team. Establishing a successful 10-year run that witnessed Jacob becoming the winningest coach in the program’s history and leading the team to its third playoff appearance in school history.
“It was obvious they were coming off some struggling years,” John Jacob explained. “The community and administration was very supportive and receptive. Facilitating any changes to make things better and re-establish a place where the kids felt really proud to be a part of the football program.”
“Our players were great, enthusiastic kids that were committed. They were good kids in the community as well as on the field. I think our teachers, staff and even town leadership felt the same way about the kids.”
Most recently Jacob spent six years at Wayne Hills High School as the offensive coordinator. The Patriots offense thrived under the direction of Jacob, reaching the state championship finals three out of the last four years while breaking numerous records and amassing vast amounts of total offense and passing yardage. In 2018 Wayne Hills won a North 1 Group 4 state title but defeated Philipsburg in the North Group 4 Bowl Championship at Met Life Stadium.
“It’s been obviously a blessing and great experience,” John Jacob explained. “I had the opportunity to work with a great group of coaches and staff. When it comes to a football community, the Wayne Hills community is second to none. They love, care and support football. As far as our Wayne Hills football parents they set the bar as families go and just a great level of enthusiasm. The kids were great to coach, willing to adhere to the team concept.”
“Coach (Chris) Olson was a legendary and iconic Hall of Fame coach, sometimes when there is a transition in leadership and adjustments have to be made. You are going to have natural bumps in the road coupled with close games that could have gone either way. It did not disperse the group because those kids ended up in the finals and stayed the course. They saw the big picture and believed in the process and what we learned in 2015 and started a pretty good run from there.”
After registering a 10-3 record in 2015 that ended with a 17-0 loss to Old Tappan in the North 1 Group 4 state championship game at Met Life Stadium, the Patriots roared back in 2016 going undefeated at 12-0 that ended in a dramatic 31-24 overtime victory over Wayne Valley in the North 1 Group 4 Final at Met Life Stadium.
“It was a great season, listen Wayne Valley was an exceptionally talented team that year,” John Jacob remarked. “They were one of the strongest teams at every level and offensively and defensively. They dealt with a few injuries and proved to be pretty resilient. Even through some injuries they had a couple of guys step up for them. We were a talented team and very resilient as well. We had a dominant will to win, never felt discouraged and had multiple tough games that were tough and could have gone either way and for our kids to come out on top at the end. “
“The Wayne Valley game, in my career the probably the second most exhausting game I have ever been a part of. Back in 2010 when I was the head coach of West Orange and we won in overtime 47-46 against West Morris on a blazing hot day on early September. They were not going away and neither were we. It was heavyweight boxing match that went an extra two rounds. More of a sigh of relief and a lot of elation because of range of emotions from the game. Listen, anytime parents get to be a part of that experience is exhilarating. For our alums it was very dear to their hearts.”
“We started that season playing down in Florida at Pahokee High School and there was an ESPN documentary on them. Great story about them training their kids to chase rabbits. Just one of the most talented teams I have ever seen. Started out there and came home and had a real close game at Ramapo. After that game our kids’ chemistry really clicked and at that point, they believed they were never going to lose again. A close and well fought tough game and out kids came out on top.”
“I think the one thing that we are really proud of as a football program is Wayne Hills envisioned is making these marquee opening games. It was well thought out in a sense and it’s more than just going to travel away for a football game and made a cultural experience. A chance to see what it’s like in another state, other college campuses, the inner workings of other communities and how they operate and how other football program in other states conduct their business. It’s turned into real broadening experience for our kids and encompassed a lot more than just a football game.”
“That sense of brotherhood and togetherness. So many appealing elements to the game. There is the speed, skill and gracefulness, but at the same time this game boils down to physical and mental toughness.”
Dropping to 7-4 in 2017, Wayne Hills rebounded in 2018 by going 11-2, scoring 40 plus points seven times, atoning for a shutout loss to Old Tappan in the 2015 North 1 Group 4 state championship game by defeating the Golden Knights 20-13. The Patriots finished off a successful season by outlasting Phillipsburg 35-21 in the North Group 4 Bowl Championship Game at Met Life Stadium.
“Old Tappan is a storied North Jersey program where there is a great deal of mutual respect between both programs and coaching staffs,” said John Jacob. “It was rewarding to win because of how hard our kids worked. If there is a team you are going lose to and not shame it.”
“That was a very interesting because it was the inaugural regional bowl championship and that was in contrast to 2016. At the end of the game you are usually exhausted, but that was little different in the sense we could have went out and played more games. Yeah, it was the postseason and wasn’t quite as fitting as it was filled with the sort of pageantry. We were happy and celebrated but I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness and wanted to keep it going. I wish we could have lined up and played somebody else the following week”
“That team was just incredible and we broke the school record. Amazing kids to coach and talented in their own right but they were better kids than players. As competitive as they were, all they wanted was the ball in their hands and believed strongly in the team concept.”
“A great experience for the kids at Met Life Stadium, you go there multiple times and after the first time are better prepared and have a better understanding. Once the game starts, the allure of playing in an NFL stadium goes away, and game sort of takes its own course.”
“I think the nature of sports, the sport itself it lends to that kind of connectivity. It’s an extremely complex sport with some many elements. Groups of players relying on the guys next to them and knowing every single play. It’s about 11 guys performing at the optimal level and that’s something real unique about football. The amount of alignment it takes to succeed and the chemistry to be part of that execution.”
“I think we pooled a lot of our resources as a Coaches Association. There have been a lot of ideas shared with in regards to different ideas and we could use to stay in touch with our teams and keep them aligned. We have been hosting coaches’ clinics on Monday nights. Coaches have found them to be a great source of information and professional growth and allowed us to still have the ability to connect each other while we were in quarantine.”
In addition to coaching football, Jacob is commissioner of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association (NJFCA) and also on the Executive Committee and as Communications Director and Super 100 Chairman.
“It was a great honor, mainly because I was voted on by my peers,” John Jacob described. “It’s significant in that sense you have garnered the trust of coaches that you admire and respect. When I first started out, I was just a member, then I was voted into the executive committee just as at large member and then I became the communications director. Last summer I was nominated to be the commissioner. A really proud organization and great group of professionals to be around.”
2020 has presented many challenges for Jacob in dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic and death of George Floyd. “Last week we had a panel discussion and has impacted our coaches’ association greatly,” said John Jacob. “We had 120 coaches in attendance from around the state. I don’t know how as an American citizen you can’t be and a very painful and disturbing image. It’s caused our nation to kind of hit the pause and recalibrate as a society.”
During his football coaching career, Jacob has relied on the support from his family. Residing in East Hanover with his wife, Denise and daughter, Sophia.
“My wife’s amazing, she is a rare breed and a football is extremely hard to find,” John Jacob said. “She made a lot of sacrifices as does my daughter too. All coaches are in the same boat, you miss a lot a lot of things you wish you didn’t, but you got a family that believes you are there for a higher calling. My wife believes in, really believes in the effect coaching has on kids. I’m trying to give back to football that everything it has given to me and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pay it back.”