John Marinelli, who has worked with the New Canaan High School football program coached by his father, Lou, off and on for the past decade, the last six seasons as offensive coordinator, was hired Wednesday morning to replace Rich Albonizio as the new coach at Greenwich.
Marinelli, 29, who had three interviews and met last Thursday with Dr. William S. McKersie, the Greenwich superintendent of schools, was offered the job on Monday night. After working out details with his employer, Northwest Mutual in Manhattan, and laboring over whether he wanted to leave a town where he first learned the sport in its youth program and sitting in the stands at high school games, Marinelli informed Greenwich athletic director Gus Lindine of his decision, then met with his new players after school.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” Marinelli said. “I’m still meeting people here but I’m excited to be here and excited to start a new challenge. It’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s time. Greenwich is one of the top jobs in New England, in the country. To land it is truly a blessing.”
The Greenwich position, one of the most coveted in the state but fraught with pressure from a zealous fan base, became open after Rich Albonizio resigned on Jan. 22. Albonizio went 184-39 in 18 seasons with the Cardinals, winning five FCIAC and three state championships. Greenwich was 7-4 last year and missed qualifying for the state playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.
“We are excited for our football program and community,” Lindine said. “He is a bright motivated coach who will provide great leadership for our boys.”
Marinelli is just Greenwich’s third coach in 43 years. Mike Ornato ran the program for a quarter of a century prior to Albonizio.
While Marinelli deliberated with his decision — as late as Tuesday night he was at one point learning toward staying out of a sense of loyalty — he got words of encouragement from his father to seize the opportunity.
“He’s been with the team since he was born,” said Lou Marinelli, who has been the Rams’ coach for 34 years. “He’s so entrenched in everything football in New Canaan. “It’s hard for him to leave and it’s hard for me. He helped get us to where we are. It’s just time for Johnny. It’s time for him to run his own program.”
A former All-State quarterback and defensive back for New Canaan, who helped the team to state titles in 2001 and 2002, Marinelli following a postgraduate year played first at Fordham and then for three years at Trinity College, graduating in 2009.
Marinelli spent any free time helping his father with the Rams before taking over as offensive coordinator, where his innovative strategies helped them become one of the state’s most explosive teams.
The four quarterbacks Marinelli worked with — Turner Baty, Matt Milano, Nick Cascione and, last year, Michael Collins — each won All-State honors. That group accounts for five of the eight best passing seasons and three of the five most career passing years in team history.
New Canaan won four league and three state titles with Marinelli overseeing an offense that averaged just over 40 points a game in six seasons.
The Rams went 11-1 last year, losing to Darien in the FCIAC championship but then avenging the defeat in the Class MM title game.
Marinelli’s fingerprints on the team went beyond the field. He played a large hand in turning the team’s “war room,” where much of the game-planning takes place, into a football technological wonderland. He could often be found sitting in front of a desk that includes five monitors, allowing him to multi-task, many times during the season past midnight. He also created and ran one of the more innovative high school team websites and played a part in designing some of the multiple uniform combinations that haven’t always played to popular reviews with opponents.
“I try to get all of our assistants to take on all kinds of responsibilities, and certainly Johnny was no different and had a huge influence,” Lou Marinelli said. “He’s always been way ahead of the curve.”
Marinelli will make his Greenwich debut with a road game at Trinity. The Cardinals’ home opener is the following week against Westhill.
The game that will be circled on everyone’s calendars will be played either Oct. 23 or 24, when Greenwich hosts New Canaan in what could be billed as The Marinelli Bowl.
“That’s going to be weird, but it’s going to be fun,” Lou Marinelli said. “If you check StubHub I think you can still get tickets.”
Marinelli said one of the first items on his agenda is putting a staff together. He already has commitments from two of Albonizio’s assistants, including offensive coordinator T.J. Ostruzka, though Marinelli said it was yet to be determined whether he will remain in that role. Marinellii said he hopes to maintain a few more Greenwich assistants, as well as bring over a couple of members of New Canaan’s staff, pending talks with his father, who may now resume his role as the Rams’ offensive coordinator.
“I’ll talk with the head coach at New Canaan,” Marinelli said. “New Canaan is a family business and I don’t intend on ruining that business, whether my father is there or not. But I want to put a good staff together. Putting a good one together is one of the most important things my father did.”
Fran Marinelli, a familiar presence on the field after every New Canaan game, was non-committal about her seating location when her husband and middle child meet on opposing sidelines for the first time.
“I asked my mother where she is going to sit and she said she is flipping a coin,” Fran Marinelli said. “I’m not flipping a coin. I will keep you posted. I will be wearing red and white.”