GREENWICH — John Marinelli says coaching football at Greenwich High School was the greatest honor of his life. That’s why the decision to leave was so difficult.
After four seasons as coach of the Cardinals, Marinelli announced his resignation Thursday to take the position of offensive analyst for the University of Arizona football team. A successful and popular coach who led GHS to a state championship last fall, Marinelli broke the news to his team, sent an email to the Greenwich High School Football Alumni Group and announced his new career move on Twitter.
“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,” Marinelli told Hearst Connecticut Media Group on Thursday. “I’m very sad to leave Greenwich. Coaching this program and being a part of this great community has been a major part of my life.”
A New Canaan native, Marinelli compiled an impressive 36-10 record in his tenure at GHS, including a 25-1 mark for the past two seasons. He guided Greenwich to the CIAC Class LL state title in 2018 – its first championship since 2007. The Cardinals posted a record of 13-0 this past fall, including a 34-0 win over archrival New Canaan High in the Class LL tournament final – a game in which he coached against his father, Lou Marinelli.
“Coaching football at Greenwich High School was the greatest honor of my life,” said John Marinelli, who replaced longtime coach Rich Albonizio when he was hired in 2015. “Gus Lindine is an outstanding athletic director, and the amount of support our staff received from the school and the entire community was unbelievable. It was a hard decision. I could have been here for years like my dad has been with New Canaan.”
Marinelli, 33, will join a University of Arizona coaching staff that is headed by Coach Kevin Sumlin.
“I go from being the head man here to being the low man there, so I have to work my way back up,” Marinelli said. “I am looking forward to learning with great college football minds and seeing how they run a program.”
Greenwich played its annual Red and White football scrimmage this past Saturday, which was the culmination of its two-week spring football season. According to Marinelli, it was during this time that the coaching position at Arizona came up.
“I’ve turned down numerous coaching jobs during my tenure, but I went on an interview for this job and was totally blown away,” he said. “Like Greenwich, it is an environment that lends itself to being successful.”
Marinelli, who is getting married on July 20, will head out to Arizona soon.
“I love the sport and I love high school football, I always will,” Marinelli said. “I wanted to do it full time and for me, this is about challenging myself. I think this is best for my fiancé and I — though it is a scary time. It is an unknown for us, we are taking on new challenges. But it’s exciting to start something new.”
Lindine hired Marinelli in April 2015. Before that, he had been part of his father’s coaching staff at New Canaan for six seasons. Marinelli was a member of the Class of 2003 at New Canaan High School, where he played for his dad, and he also played at Trinity College, where he was a standout at safety.
“John has been extremely valuable to our program the past four seasons,” Lindine said. “He set high expectations for our program, and he handled the pressures of coaching with great maturity and integrity. I’m going to miss John’s passion, his enthusiasm and his out-of-the-box thinking.”
The rapport Marinelli shared with the students was one of his biggest assets.
“The relationship he had with his players was truly special,” Lindine said. “They appreciated and responded to his passion.”
Informing the Greenwich team of his decision to leave to coach at the collegiate level wasn’t easy for Marinelli.
“While I am excited about the future, it was sad to see the faces of the kids today, it broke my heart,” Marinelli said. “They were shocked by it. It was a decision I went back-and-forth with.”
Greenwich doesn’t have much time to hire a new coach, with training camp starting in August and the season officially beginning in September.
“We are going to go through the selection process and get it done as quickly as we can,” Lindine said. “It will be an aggressive timeline.”
Marinelli said he hopes the school hires a football coach from within the program and named Greenwich assistant coach Anthony Morello as someone who could step into the role.
“I think he (Morello) is a great fit,” Marinelli said. “He went to Greenwich, he played here, he was a freshman coach, junior varsity coach, offensive coach — I believe he is a tremendous fit.”
Greenwich had a record of 4-5 in Marinelli’s first season as coach, improved to 7-4 in his second season, then finished 12-1 in year three. This past fall, Greenwich fielded one of its best teams ever, as it dominated the opposition on its way to a perfect record of 13-0.
“I’m proud of each senior class I had, and it was nice seeing them realize their potential on and off the field,” Marinelli said. “Seeing that senior class go out with a state championship in the fall was a great feeling.”
Many players — 42 to be exact — went on to play college football during Marinelli’s tenure.
Gavin Muir, who started at quarterback the past two seasons, will continue his career at Dartmouth College.
“Coach Marinelli had a great impact on me,” Muir said. “Coming in as a freshman, he talked to me like I was part of the varsity team, which stuck with me. He taught me everything how to play quarterback and he spent a great amount of time with me in helping me prepare to be the best quarterback I could be. I don’t think I would be going on to play college football if it wasn’t for him.
“I’m sad that he’s leaving, but I’m happy for him and his family. This is a great opportunity for him and his coaching career and it’s one that he deserves.”
Indeed, Marinelli will miss his coaching days at Greenwich High.
“The community, the alumni, the town, the support system – they all made it such a pleasure to coach here,” he said. “I was hired for a job in Greenwich that everyone wanted and I felt fortunate to get it. This community cares so much about the kids in the program – not wins and losses. They want to know each kid. I appreciate the support they gave our coaching staff over the years.”