Anthony Morello rooted for the Greenwich High School football team as a youngster, hoping that one day he would be a member of the Cardinals varsity squad.
That day came, as he wound up as a star offensive lineman for Greenwich, earning accolades as an All-FCIAC and All-State player. His journey with the Cardinals continued when he became teacher in the Greenwich Public Schools, joining the coaching staff as an assistant in 2011. And now he’s the man in charge.
Greenwich High athletic director Gus Lindine announced the appointment of Morello as head coach of the Cardinals on Thursday morning.
“I’m honored, it’s truly a humbling feeling,” Morello said. “It’s such a special program in such a special town. To be in this position is surreal.”
Morello, 32, a 2005 Greenwich High graduate, interviewed for the Cardinals coaching job last week, along with several other candidates.
“Through a lot of time, energy and hard work, Anthony has become quite an exceptional football coach,” Lindine said. “As a former Cardinal captain and player, he recognizes and values the strong tradition of our football program and understands its expectations.”
Morello replaces John Marinelli, who spent four successful seasons at the helm before accepting an assistant coaching position at the University of Arizona last month. In his tenure, Marinelli’s record is 36-10, including a 13-0 season in 2018, which ended with a 34-0 victory over New Canaan in the Class LL state championship game in December.
Greenwich’s new head coach led the program’s freshman team from 2012 to 2014, guiding the squad to two undefeated seasons. In 2015, Marinelli tapped Morello as offensive line coach of the varsity squad. In the 2017 season, Marinelli named Morello as running game coordinator of the Cardinals varsity team.
“To have my first head coaching experience be at Greenwich — it’s hard to describe,” Morello said. “I never thought I would be in this position, six or even two months ago. I had always dreamed of being a head coach. The timing was right for me.”
Greenwich High interim headmaster Ralph Mayo said: “I have known Mr. Morello for many years and have followed his fine work in the classroom, on the athletic field and in the theater. I can’t think of a better role model for our student-athletes, or a better leader for our community. He is an excellent coach, but more importantly, an even better person. We are all very lucky to welcome him as our new head football coach.”
Morello played for the BANC Raiders of the Greenwich Youth Football League as a youngster, then was a key member of coach Rich Albonizio’s Cardinals team that advanced to the Class LL championship game in 2004 and the semifinals in 2003 — losing both times to New Britain.
“As a player, I learned so much from Rich Albonizio,” Morello said. “I learned what it meant to play Cardinal football, and I brought that mentality with me when I went on to play football at Union College. I had that same mindset of family and football.
“Growing up in Greenwich and watching the football games here in town as a kid, I was thinking what could be for me in the future. I wanted to be a part of the program.”
At Union College, Morello earned All-American honors as an offensive tackle. He was selected as Union’s Offensive MVP in 2017.
“I had a great college experience,” he said. “My offensive line coach, Gary Reynolds, helped me make the transition from high school to college. He taught me the fundamentals of the spread offense and how to pass protect. My experience at Union under (head) coach John Audino taught me so much.”
Morello got his start in coaching at the high school level in 2010 from Rob Trifone, Darien’s successful coach. He became a part of the GHS staff headed by Albonizio in 2011 and remained onboard when Marinelli took over the helm in 2015.
“I’ve spent time learning from Coach Albonizio and Coach Trifone, who gave me my coaching start,” Morello said. “Then the past few years, John Marinelli taught me how to be a leader and mentor. He has been so helpful along the way and I’m thankful for the years I had with John Marinelli.”
Since Morello was hired from within the program, Greenwich’s entire coaching staff will remain intact.
“I am grateful to all our coaches for all they did in supporting me,” Morello said. “It is never about one person, one person does not make or break a team. We are a family at Greenwich and we are a part of this staff, because we love the game of football and we want to give back to the sport of football. I’m blessed to have these guys working with me. It definitely makes the transition easier.”
During the interview process, the Greenwich football players continued with their off-season conditioning program.
Like Marinelli, Morello is interested in not only coaching his players, but emphasizing the importance of gaining an education.
“First and foremost, football is important, but the education and growth of the student-athlete is at the forefront,” he said. “It needs to be stressed that school needs to come first. As a head coach, you have to develop a relationship with the players and make the tough decisions. You have to motivate and come up with a game plan for the team each game. It is about creating a winning culture through positivity and hard work.”
Added Lindine: “Coach Morello has a great connection with the players, school and community. He was extremely impressive throughout the selection process.”
Morello is a teacher in the Special Education Department for Greenwich Public Schools and also serves as the executive director of the Off-Beat Players Theatre Company — a musical theater company designed for young adults with special needs. This summer, he’s also working as executive camp director at Burning Tree Country Club.
Morello believes there’s a significant connection between being a teacher and coaching.
“To have success as an educator, you must be a good listener and understand the needs of any kid,” he said. “Whether it’s struggles in the classroom, or on the playing field. You have to pay close attention to them and be motivated to help them. They know when someone is listening and putting in the time.”
Taking over a Greenwich squad that went undefeated in 2018 and dominated the opposition, Morello knows he’s stepping into a prime situation. Yet a lot of talent from last season’s championship team has graduated.
“We have a ton of talent, with over 200 kids in our program,” he said. “There are a lot of positions to fill and all spots are open, which should produce great practices. What the kids have done in the past is great, but we want them to focus on what’s happening now.”
Greenwich’s season begins with a home game against Danbury High on Sept. 14.
“I am excited about coaching this group,” Morello said. “I told them they couldn’t have picked some one more excited to be in front of them.”