It has been nearly two months since New Canaan offensive coordinator John Marinelli was hired as the new football coach at Greenwich. Though just 29, Marinelli was given a lot of responsibility in his previous position by his father Lou, the Rams’ head coach.
Confident, knowledgeable and occasionally outspoken, Marinelli recently sat down with The Ruden Report to go behind the scenes since his hiring.
The Ruden Report: Just how hard was the choice to leave New Canaan? Your dad told me he was in a schedule committee meeting the night before and you sent him a text saying you were staying put. He said he wanted to ring your neck.
John Marinelli: That was the text message I sent him. Family is very important to me. Being able to work with your dad every day was a very important thing in my life. Something very special and very rare. The next morning I woke up and was going to work and I got some phone calls from people I trust that just wanted to hear me talk and I just talked. At the end of the day, if I want to be the role model I want to be, if I want to be the person I want to be, to take a job like Greenwich and really go after something you desire in your life, then this was the opportunity to do that. I guess throughout the process I needed someone to tell me do you really want to be in your dad’s shadow the whole time. I never thought I was but public perception put me there, but I was granted opportunities because of who he is. I always tried to put a stamp on what I did. For me to be able to now make my own name and sign my name as the author is a very unique opportunity. I’m 29 years old. Greenwich High School is the Alabama of Connecticut. It’s the best place to be in Connecticut. I can’t tell you how excited I am. Now a month later, what the hell was I thinking about not taking the job?
TRR: Could you see yourself having taken a job anywhere else?
JM: No. Greenwich High School is an opportunity to touch the hearts and souls of so many being the second largest high school in the state. The ability to bring my knowledge of the game and learn about the traditions of Greenwich High School, which is one of the most tradition-rich programs in the state. That’s what the game is all about, that is what the sport is all about.
TRR: You’ve kept a low profile since getting the job. What have you been working on to get things in place the way you want for the start of the season.
JM: I believe that football is and athletics in general is an extension of the classroom. Classrooms have smart boards, classrooms have desks and chairs and computers. I’m recruiting the hallways, I’ve met with leaders in the youth organization, I’ve met with other coaches to show my support. I’m rebuilding the facilities there to be able to compete in high school football, not just in the FCIAC and the state but around the nation, to grow what should be one of the best programs. I have a great staff, I work for the best athletic director I could ask for. I have been out there supporting the men’s volleyball team, the women’s lacrosse team, the rugby team, the baseball team and just athletics in general. The lacrosse teams, I’ve been to their games as well. I believe when you have a community that supports one another it helps everyone.
TRR: What have you been doing to immediately put your imprint on the program?
JM: If you’ve ever seen the movie The Shawshank Redemption, and the guy has just gotten out of jail, he asks his boss if he can take a bathroom break and the boss says you don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom, you can just go. I am constantly asking a lot of questions. Is this OK, is that OK? I am curious by nature, I’ve always been, asking a lot of questions. And people are like just do that, why are you asking a lot of questions. I talk to my players and tell them no question is a stupid question. I think there is a lot of excitement for Greenwich football, people calling me saying they have kids coming to play in the program. More people are telling me about how excited the community is and I just constantly tell people no one is more excited than I am. I might have gotten the job with the New Your Giants and you wouldn’t be able to tell. The challenges lie ahead, but right now we are in the honeymoon stage.
TRR: How hard is it also having a job in New York City and navigating both?
JM: It’s no different than being an assistant coach in New Canaan, which is 20 minutes farther. I will rely a lot on my staff for delegation. I love the fact I can do both. It is as hard as you make it to be. I am a perfectionist by nature and make sure all I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, whether it is football or anything else. People who know me the most know how much time I put into the job and I work for the best employers possible. Their support throughout this thing, I can’t thank them enough.
TRR: What has been occupying most of your time so far?
JM: That’s a good question. Communication. Trying to figure out email lists, alumni lists, the things that are not football related. I have practice schedules done for the entire spring, I have the first week of preseason pretty much done, I have speakers to come in and talk that first week, what it’s like to be a good citizen, what it’s like to be a good man, what it’s like to be involved in the community. All those things are done. Now I need to find better ways to communicate with alumni, the community, parents and players alike. Something we had built over time in New Canaan we are starting from scratch.
TRR: What has the interaction been like with your players so far?
JM: Great. Amazing. They’re very excited. Guys come up to me and I’m there lunch time, I’m there after school. Everyone is very excited. Our weight room attendance has been incredible. Probably triple from what I’ve been told from what it was. And we picked up people who have not played the sport to come back, and we stopped the kids going to prep school and maybe stopped football and specializing. That’s not the way we’re going the build something in Greenwich. We’re based on multi-sport athletes. There’s no such thing as a football player that just plays football. I don’t believe in that and that’s not the way I was brought up. I was a three-sport athlete in high school. I only believe the best thing is to put kids in competitive situations no matter what the sport is. The fourth quarter, the ninth inning, second half of a rugby game the third period of a hockey game. Something changes when you have to be put in situations. Nine months in the weight room for three months of playing is not something I believe in.
TRR: You were given a lot of latitude at New Canaan as offensive coordinator and you can make the argument you have been bred to be a head coach. Have you asked your father for much advice?
JM: No, I haven’t. There’s a lot going on in New Canaan picking up the pieces and when I talk to my father it has been very little about football. There will come a time when I will need his advice and ask him for advice but I’ve also already grown up and watched him so a lot of questions he’s already answered for me. I’ll definitely need advice during the season but like I said we are still in the honeymoon phase right now. I’m undefeated. So there are zero problems at Greenwich High School, but I am going to make mistakes as a new coach, it’s just going to happen, we all make mistakes and I’m going to lean on my dad a lot, as I’m sure he will with me for different things I did at New Canaan to help him. As I said after I took the job, this is the family business. Also not taking over a new program but trying to align what I did at New Canaan to make sure the right people are put in the right situations. I don’t want to see any of that die. I will be at a lot of New Canaan games this year and it’s not because I am trying to beat them but I grew up on the sidelines as a fan, I had an idol (Chris Silvestri) who is currently the defensive coordinator. I’m an alumni, when I left for college I tried to get back for every game possible, I coached there and now I go back to being a fan. It’s almost like I’ve come full circle. Trust me New Canaan is fine. They are the No. 1 program in the state of Connecticut and they will continue to be that. For at least a little while.
TRR: How has spring football gone so far as the head coach?
JM: It doesn’t feel that much different. Feels good, new faces, new role but not that too much different from my standpoint. We have a lot of work to do but our numbers are unbelievable; great numbers, great coaching staff. We have 85 kids out and we are missing our rugby, baseball and lacrosse kids. The kids are giving a lot of effort so we are off and working right now.
TRR: The big question: we know how much care you took in setting up the war room at New Canaan just right and how you had a hand in designing the uniforms. How is the war room at Greenwich coming and what can we expect with the uniforms?
JM: The Greenwich war room is going to be a classroom, where kids can go in and learn, just like they can math class, English class, science class, history class. That’s what it is. The war room is going to be a place just like that, where they can learn about their craft. The uniforms are traditional in nature and funky by design. It’s going to be new. It’s going to be exciting. We’re bringing a new brand of football to Greenwich, some new ideas, new technology that’s going to liven it up. Whether it is going to work is yet to be seen. That’s the way things worked in New Canaan and it worked for me then. We brought that program to a new level from a technology standpoint and Greenwich is going to have every bit and more from when I left. Now that I am the head of my own program I will get to do some things I would have done differently and I’ve learned from building the technology of one program and now I can build the technology of another program where I know what was wrong and what needed to be corrected. I’m working with New Canaan on the same thing. That’s my dad’s program, that’s the family business so Greenwich and New Canaan are going to be hand in hand in the technology department because anything I buy, they’re going to buy. Everything they have, we’re going to have and that’s the scariest thing. The scariest thing for Connecticut is Greenwich, the second biggest town and arguably the richest tradition just got closer to the No. 1 program in the state. Now you have two head coaches in my dad and myself who talk every day. Hey what are you doing. How’s this, how’d that work for you. That must be the scariest thing for the rest of the state to know both Marinellis are having constant communication. Not everything will work but that’s a scary thing in my mind. It’s an exciting time for Greenwich, it’s an exciting time for New Canaan. They get to develop their program continuously and try to be the No. 1 program in the state and I get to put New Canaan on a pedestal and reach for them.