By Warren Rappleyea
Michael Cipot has big plans for the North Brunswick Township High School football program he was just hired to lead. Cipot was a player in 1990, when his alma mater halted a 19-game losing streak and turned in a winning campaign under Sal Mistretta.
“I’ve been preparing for this for the past 10 years,” said Cipot, who served as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator in 2016. “I’ve been fortunate to have been an assistant under some very good coaches, and I learned a lot. I’m ready to go, and I want a winning record next year. It’s not a stretch.”
Cipot’s hiring as head coach and as a physical education teacher was formally approved by the North Brunswick Board of Education April 26. He takes the reins from Don Zsak, who resigned earlier this year after two seasons at the Raiders’ helm.
North Brunswick has won just eight games over the past five seasons, including a 1-9 showing in 2016, and have not posted a winning record since 2010, when Mark Zielinski’s team posted an 8-3 mark and qualified for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs.
North Brunswick athletic director Lou Emmanuel said Cipot was selected from a field of 12 candidates following a thorough interview process. In addition to district officials, alumni, other North Brunswick coaches and representatives of the local Pop Warner youth football program participated in the process that included a total of three interviews.
“Mike was able to articulate his vision for the program clearly and articulately,” Emmanuel said. “He backed up all of his comments with details on how he plans to make the program better. He’s the kind of guy who embraces changes, and he’s excited about the challenge.”
Cipot brought along a binder loaded with sample practice schedules, practice plans and even a mission statement.
“I’ve been taking notes for a long time and keeping them in a file,” he said. “As soon as this job opened up, I knew I wanted it and that it might be the only time I’d have a chance to get the job. I also knew there would be other great candidates applying. So I went through my file and put everything together into one cohesive plan.”
That plan includes plenty of community involvement and creating a supportive family atmosphere. Cipot plans to work closely with the Pop Warner program, reach out to local businesses and involve his players in community activities, such as the upcoming Memorial Day commemoration.
Cipot’s family has deep roots in the township, and those family ties are another plus. His dad, Jack, was a star basketball player at St. Peter’s High School in New Brunswick. Cipot’s uncle played on the North Brunswick team that went to a sectional final in 1979, and his brothers, Nick and John, also played football for the Raiders.
“We’ve had family members at the school in every decade, and that kind of association is very important,” Cipot said. “I’m going to take advantage of our family network to connect North Brunswick football to the community and, hopefully, connect the community to North Brunswick football.”
Cipot graduated from North Brunswick in 2001, where he played football — he was a captain in 2000 — and basketball. He went on to Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, where he played football for four years and was named to the Atlantic Central Football Conference All-Academic team in 2003. Cipot earned his master of arts degree from Seton Hall University.
He began his coaching career as an assistant coach from 2007 to 2010 under Zielinski. He went on to become the defensive coordinator at Metuchen High School under Mistretta from 2011-12 and spent three years as defensive coordinator, linebackers and offensive line coach at Immaculata High School, where he worked for head coaches John Hank and Tom Falato.
“This is a huge hire for us,” Emmanuel said. “We’re bringing in one of our own, so to speak. It’s going to be good to have him in the building every day. Mike has great experience as a coach, and he brings that ability to connect with the community. He’s going to make people feel as though they’re a part of the program.”