When Greenwich defeated rival New Canaan in the Class LL football final in December, it didn’t only mark the Cardinals’ first state title since 2007, or highlight an extremely rare father-vs.-son championship coaching matchup.
Turns out, the victory marked the final game of John Marinelli’s successful coaching career at Greenwich — a tenure that seemed shorter than the four years he spent at the helm.
One of the logos on the Cardinals’ helmet displays the word ‘Fly’, which was the team’s modus operandi under Marinelli. They played fast, scored quickly and accomplished plenty in four seasons. A state championship, two appearances in the state final, a pair of FCIAC titles and a whole lot more points than the opposition — yes, the Cardinals returned to elite status in what seemed like a flash for Marinelli, who stepped down Thursday, after accepting a coaching position at the University of Arizona.
Choosing to leave Greenwich wasn’t an easy decision for Marinelli. Stay with a championship Greenwich program he built, or travel across the country for a position at a higher level? The 33-year-old Marinelli, who is getting married in July, opted to make a career change and will be off to Arizona soon.
“It’s all pretty recent, it happened so fast,” Marinelli said. “I love the sport, I love the game and I wanted to do it full time. As difficult as it is to leave, when it came down to it, I believe this is the right situation for me and the right time. I love high school football and I always will. Coaching this program and being a part of this great community has been a major part of my life.”
Much of Marinelli’s new job includes doing what he enjoys most — working with the offense.
“I’ll be helping out with game plans and help preparing game plans for opponents,” Marinelli said. “The future is bright for Arizona from what I’ve seen and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Ask anyone in the Greenwich football community and they’ll tell you how excited and happy they are for Marinelli, which is a testament to how well-liked and popular he was in town.
“I’m sad that he’s leaving, but I’m happy for him and his family,” said Greenwich senior Gavin Muir, who starred at quarterback for two seasons for Marinelli’s Cardinals, breaking all types of team passing records. “This is a great opportunity for him and his coaching career and it’s one that he deserves.”
When players have fun, they usually practice and play their best and the Greenwich team certainly learned to enjoy the game under Marinelli and his staff’s guidance. Practices were upbeat and organized, few seconds were wasted, the energy level was high and players were motivated.
Greenwich posted records of 13-0 (2018) and 12-1 (2017), becoming one of the highest scoring squads in the state along the way.
“Coach Marinelli is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life,” said GHS senior Lance Large, who will continue his football career at John’s Hopkins University in the fall, one of numerous college athletes Marinelli’s program has produced. “He helped shape me. I am where I am because I played for the greatest coach ever. He is the most dedicated coach I’ve ever met.”
Like so many players that honed their skills at GHS the past four seasons, Large developed into a collegiate-level athlete on a Cardinals’ offense that defenses were hard-pressed to stop.
“He (Marinelli) is so creative, he knows the defensive schemes so well,” Large said. “He knows how to get what he wants based on personnel and he knows how to use people the right way.”
Added Greenwich senior Toby Turnbull, who will play football at Stonehill College in the fall: “He is one of the most influential people that I’ve ever met. He’s helped every single one of us, on and off the field. We were his first class as freshmen when he came here to coach and he helped us grow as people, not just football players.”
Numerous players have proceeded to play football at the collegiate level after graduating from Greenwich the past four seasons, including 11 this year. Getting his players noticed by college coaches was a passion project for Marinelli.
“Opportunities are out there for a lot of kids to continue their passion if they want to,” Marinelli said. “We’ve always wanted to give them the opportunity to get in front of their recruiters and be seen.”
Anthony Morello an offensive coach on Marinelli’s staff the past four seasons, has witnessed the culture Marinelli created at Greenwich and rapport he had with his staff.
“Working for coach Marinelli was a blessing,” said Morello, a 2005 Greenwich High School graduate, who played on the Cardinals’ football squad. “He motivated me to work harder and strive to be better without even asking. His up-tempo mentality and energy was contagious and it inspired our athletes to be great players and better people.
“He always let me and the other coaches coach. John was the kind of coach that had trust in all of his assistants to execute the game plan. He allowed us to do what we love and share in the team’s success. It was always about the team, never about him.”
Marinelli went through great lengths to ensure his athletes were aware of significant issues off the field. He was an advocate against domestic violence and worked closely with the YWCA’s services in Greenwich to promote awareness of domestic abuse. A supporter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Marinelli has also spent a lot of time with the Greenwich Youth Football League, monitoring the league and its athletes.
“Coaching is about the development of teenage boys,” Marinelli said. “I’m lucky that I had a staff of the greatest role models for teenage boys. We have worked hard to instill a family environment in our program.”
Said Morello: “John always reminded the kids when they are out in the community they are representing Greenwich football and should want to be seen in a positive light. He has shown them that this game can bring them so much more than they realize.”
Morello knows Marinelli will succeed at Arizona and will remember his coaching mentor.
“We are thrilled for him, but we are losing a really great guy,” he said. “In my opinion, he beat the high school game, it was time for him to find a new game. He belongs in the NCAA and if he has aspirations of going even higher, he will reach that, he’s that kind of coach.”