Greenwich felt its football program needed a new and more contemporary direction.
And it was finally time for John Marinelli to cut the umbilical cord and emerge from his father’s shadow.
The pairing that occurred Wednesday afternoon may not have been as arbitrary as the decades-old commercial where two strangers, one carrying chocolate, the other peanut butter, collide and a new confectionary treat is born.
The Cardinals’ hiring of Marinelli to take over their football team is in contrast a calculated but more importantly an inspired move, one with a huge upside for each party.
Ever since Rich Albonizio’s forced resignation nearly three months ago, there has been a bunker mentality for a Greenwich administration criticized outside its borders for cutting ties with a beloved coach.
The sentiment inside town was quite different, and the notion of anything short of an undefeated season being a bare minimum for success might only be a slight exaggeration.
Albonizio, 64, reached the state championship game seven times from 1999-2007. Since then, there has been just one appearance in the CIAC playoffs. After finishing 5-5 in 2010, the Cardinals won eight games three straight years before going 7-4 last season.
Consistent seven-win seasons would satisfy the fan base in more than half of the FCIAC membership towns. Fairly or not, the feeling in Greenwich was that the Cardinals were underachieving and had grown staid, unable to keep up with the Joneses or, in this case, the Marinellis.
Many — including this writer — assumed Albonizio’s replacement would require head coaching experience at a successful program on the resume to justify the change. Once word leaked out last week that Marinelli was a viable candidate who was called back for both second and third interviews before meeting with the town’s school superintendent, the idea of a completely different path seemed a perfect move.
If unimpressed with the old regime, then Marinelli is everything that Albonizio is not: at 29 half his age and well versed with the technological advancements in football that paralleled his own maturation and have become so integral to success.
“We wanted to get the best football coach we could get,” Greenwich athletic director Gus Lindine said Wednesday afternoon.
A simplistic difference: Albonizio admitted a grudging acceptance of 7 on 7 football because everyone else was doing it. Marinelli built New Canaan’s annual summer camp into the biggest in the region.
Marinelli uses every new Silicon Valley release to his favor, from scouting to creating game plans. Getting hired this week seems almost fitting: how long until a Greenwich quarterback calls a signal and 10 other players quickly eye their Apple Watch?
Uncle Joe’s in Norwalk is New Canaan’s regular spot to celebrate victories. While most coaches would unwind on a Friday night from a long week, Marinelli would make a cameo before heading back to the school’s “war room,” analyzing film until the wee hours, his next work week already under way.
Marinelli ultimately needed, both for his own personal growth and to follow his true passion, to break from the New Canaan program that his father, Lou, over the past 34 years has turned into one of the state’s most successful and estimable.
All of Marinelli’s life has been under the New Canaan football tent: sitting in the stands, watching from the sidelines in assorted capacities, and playing on the fields through the youth to the high school level.
He earned his way to the head table — coaching on the same staff with former New Canaan star Chris Silvestri, a player he once looked up to. He learned from great coaches, not just his father but Bo Hickey and Joe Dittola, to name a couple.
Now, finally running a team, he will blend acquired knowledge with his own curiosity of using the latest advances to win games.
As we are seeing more often at the higher levels of the sport, his youthful age will be viewed as asset rather than liability.
Even Marinelli’s few missteps were hatched out of a youthful exuberance that will play well with the Greenwich players. Marinelli prided himself on involving himself in all aspects, including uniform design.
It was his idea for the multiple combinations that could change on a weekly basis and thus attracted criticism from opponents. To others it was the perception — actually, misperception — that the town’s affluence was being flaunted in a way much different than, say, a state-of-the-art scoreboard.
In reality, for Marinelli it was another tool to try and tap into his players’ enthusiasm, a way to bond that did not undermine authority.
Fortunately, Marinelli’s schedule is about to become too busy for color coordination, which is OK. He will no doubt find ways old and new to delve into his new players’ yearning for the championship trophies that have become an almost annual rite for the Rams.
The administrators in Greenwich feel their football program needs a new road map. And it is time for Marinelli to take the wheel, in a town that has the financial resources to give him the tools he has proved gives him a better chance to win.
Like chocolate and peanut butter, this new marriage has all the potential to create a sweet reward.