It was just about a year ago, almost to the day, that John Marinelli was in the audience at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington, while his father, New Canaan High head football coach Lou Marinelli, was sitting at the head table as one of the recipients of the prestigious Gold Key, the highest sports award in the state.
Now fast forward 364 days to the 78th Gold Key Dinner this past Sunday at the same venue and it was Lou Marinelli sitting in the audience watching proudly as Johnny Marinelli took his place of honor at the dais as this year’s Doc McInerney Coach of the Year.
The former New Canaan player and assistant coach was the choice of the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance after the fourth-year head coach at Greenwich High School led the Cardinals to a perfect 13-0 season and the Class LL state championship.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, under Marinelli’s leadership, Greenwich was voted No. 1 in the final state poll for the first time in the program’s long and storied history.
Greenwich was not only the best high school football team in Connecticut in 2018, but also the most dominant. The Cardinals’ closest regular-season game was a 28-point win over New Canaan and his father.
Then in the postseason, Greenwich outscored opponents 133-13 in three CIAC playoff games, including a 50-0 rout of Newtown, the state’s No. 6 ranked team in the final state poll, in the semifinals. Marinelli and the Cards capped off their dream season with a 34-0 win in a rematch against No. 4 New Canaan in the Class LL state final.
With numbers like those, John Marinelli certainly earned a seat at the front of the room at this year’s Gold Key Dinner.
“Our season was very special,” he told the large gathering from the podium as he accepted his award, the same award his father received in 2008. “I call our program a community program because so many people are involved. From the administration to the coaching staff, to the kids and all their parents, to all the neighborhoods, it’s really an amazing community program.
“It goes beyond the walls of Greenwich High School. That’s what this award means to me, all the people involved in our program. Nothing in football has the letter ‘I’ in it.”
That’s also why whenever Marinelli receives an award — and there have been quite a few the last few seasons — he makes it clear that he’s just the one who gets up and accepts it.
“I call an award like this a staff award,” he explained. “My coaching staff is my life support. I’m going into my fifth year as head coach and for the fourth straight year not a single coach has left. It’s so important to keep continuity.”
But while Marinelli’s list of accolades continues to grow, he says there’s something a little extra special about receiving an award from sports writers around the state.
“Sports writers and coaches have this unbroken bond between them,” he noted. “You guys are the last ones at the field after games. You know how hard coaches work and what we go through and coaches know how hard the sports writers work and what goes into what they do, working late into the night. That’s why this award means so much.”
Winning state championships is nothing new to John Marinelli. The 2004 NCHS graduate won two as an all-state player at New Canaan and three more as an offensive coordinator with the Rams before taking the head coaching position at Greenwich.
And along the way, he picked up a few valuable lessons from the head coach he used to play for and coach under.
“My father was an unbelievable mentor and still is,” Marinelli said. “We have a very special bond whether we’re coaching with each other or against each other. We support one another constantly except for one day a season … or in some cases twice.”
Of course, the younger Marinelli still has some ground to make up to catch up to his father, who has won 12 state titles in his four decades as the Rams’ head coach and is the state’s all-time leader in victories. But Lou Marinelli didn’t seem to mind sitting in the audience Sunday as a proud spectator.
“I have a great amount of respect for my father,” John Marinelli, clutching his Coach of the Year plaque, concluded. “He knows how to build a program the right way and he left me the blueprints to build my own program.”