Tom Noto has done an outstanding job in four seasons as the Belvidere High School wrestling coach, bringing a program that was virtually dead, back to respectability in a short period time.
As unlikely as it may seem, Noto may not be back for a fifth season, though not of his own doing. The former two-time New Jersey state champion says he doesn't anticipate retaining his coaching job and that the Warren County school is beginning an interview process to hire a head coach starting on Monday.
"Two weeks ago I was told [Belvidere] was opening my position," said Noto, when reached by cell phone on Thursday. "I kind of knew this was going to happen eventually. I lost my [special education] teaching job [at the end of the 2009-10 school] year and I haven't spoken to anyone in the administration since."
Noto, who coached with a torn Achilles tendon last winter, said that he is scheduled to interview for his coaching job on Monday at 9 a.m. The former star wrestler at South River High School and Hofstra University said his tenure at Belvidere has been full of struggles since Day 1. Undaunted, Noto has never complained to the media and has always maintained a positive attitude, though the latest string of events would take its toll on the most dedicated of coaches.
"I've always kept my head up. I'm not a complainer," Noto said. "I'm a wrestler. I won't give up."
Since Noto is not in the building, his job has always been subject to challenge from an in-house candidate. According to sources, former Liberty (Pa.) High School star and Pleasant Valley coach Danny McIntrye is a leading candidate to be the County Seaters' next wrestling coach.
Neither McIntyre, athletic director Jason Klebez or superintendent Dirk Swaneveld immediately returned phone messages seeking comment. McIntyre is a social studies teacher at the high school.
Noto, 29, inherited a program in 2007-08 that was on the verge of becoming either a co-op program or dropped all together. Numbers were very low and the Seaters were forfeiting a number of weight classes. Belvidere went a combined 35-92-1 from 2001 until his arrival and was 1-26 the season before he took over from former coach Brett Hyland, now an assistant at Warren Hills.
In his first season, Noto's team finished 7-12-1. This past season, Belvidere went 9-12 and qualified for the sectionals for the first time in 10 years, beating Madison, 33-30, in the first round before a 41-33 loss to Boonton in the semifinals. The Seaters are 37-54-1 overall in his four seasons.
Numbers are finally on the rise, with nearly 30 wrestlers on last year's squad. Belvidere filled all 14 weight classes for the first time in Noto's four seasons. Rising senior Dylan Thorsen, a three-time district finalist and two-time region placewinner, has blossomed under Noto's watch.
"I'm a little angry, a little bitter," Noto said. "But I never treated anyone that way. I've always been positive."