SPRINGFIELD, MASS. — For Lou Marinelli, football has always been about more than just the Xs and Os.
Life lessons, values and developing relationships through the sport have been hallmarks of Marinelli’s career — hallmarks forged during his time as both a player and a graduate assistant coach at Springfield College.
On April 13, it all came full circle for Marinelli, as the legendary coach of the New Canaan High School football program was inducted into the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I was totally taken by surprise,” Marinelli, a member of the Springfield Class of 1972, said. “I graduated so long ago, and for them to come back now and honor me was incredible. I absolutely loved Springfield. It’s had such a huge impact on my philosophy on things, a humanics philosophy and it’s all about helping people which was one of the reasons I wanted to be a coach. If the Dean didn’t say to me, ‘You have to go get a job’, I’d still be there.”
Fortunately for New Canaan, Marinelli did eventually leave Springfield College.
Marinelli arrived in New Canaan in 1981 and immediately reinvigorated a once-proud Rams football program that had not won a game over three consecutive seasons, leading New Canaan to the state championship in just his second year.
It was the first of 12 state titles for the coach, who became the all-time leader in wins in Connecticut high school football history in 2017.
“New Canaan has embraced me, they’ve embraced football and they’ve supported everything I’ve done,” Marinelli said. “And I’ve always had a great staff and great players. So many different kids that I’ve gotten the chance to be a part of their lives. Here I am being awarded something from Springfield College, but I feel I should be awarding other people for that.”
The awards have piled up over the years for Marinelli.
A five-time recipient of the Fairfield County Athletic Coach of Excellence Award, Marinelli has been named the USA Today High School Sports/All-USA Connecticut Football Team, Coach of the Year twice and is a three-time National High School Athletic Coaches Association National High School Coach of the Year finalist.
Marinelli was previously inducted into both the Connecticut High School Coaches Association and Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference Halls of Fame.
But it was this past weekend’s festivities that perhaps had the biggest emotional impact on Marinelli.
“It was just such a wonderful weekend,” Marinelli said. “They took it as such an honor and treated you like gold. And I had forgotten about all the great things that were at Springfield College when I was there a hundred years ago.”
Marinelli was able to spend time with former Springfield football and lacrosse teammates and coaches and, along with the other 2019 honorees, had a champagne toast at the home of Springfield College President Mary-Beth A. Cooper.
The coach was also invited to observe the Pride football team’s spring practice and meet and speak with current members of the team, currently coached by Mike Cerasuolo.
“To watch them practice as hard as they did in the spring with such enthusiasm was awesome,” Marinelli said. “And to meet them afterwards with my wife Fran was such a good feeling. It had such a big impact on the both of us. Coach Cerasuolo told me afterwards that the kids really enjoyed meeting us as well. The whole thing was done so well. And from a personal point of view, to have my whole family there — what a special weekend.”
And to anyone who knows Lou Marinelli, family is more important than anything to the coach — regardless of whether it’s his own family or his extended football family.
“I’ve always felt that it was a family and should be a family atmosphere,” Marinelli said. “I usually write the seniors at the end of the year that once you’re a Ram, you’re always a Ram. And if there’s anything we can ever do to help you, just call us. At the end of the day, you’re a family and when you bring that to a team environment, it only helps. It just brings you closer. And then no matter what happens to you, there are people there who can help get you through. And it helps people understand that together we can do more than what you can do as an individual.”