The hiring of John Marinelli at Greenwich a year ago created a buzz throughout the FCIAC. He was just 29 years old, and the son of — and offensive coordinator for — New Canaan’s Lou Marinelli, one of the most successful coaches in state history.
Instead of chasing a CIAC championship, Marinelli had to endure a 4-5 record in his first season as he worked on putting into place what he said is a five-year plan to put in all the changes he feels are necessary.
The Cardinals have had a busy offseason — on and off the field — as Marinelli has tried to build on a year ago.
Marinelli is always a candid interview, as you will see here in our talk about the current state of the Cardinals.
The Ruden Report: How would you assess your first year as a head coach?
John Marinelli: I give my dad a lot of credit for giving me a ton of responsibility. I did a lot of the administrative work so that side of things I kind of knew, that part of things, and I had to implement it into Greenwich, which hadn’t had it implemented before. Learning a new town, new people, new families, a much different demographic than New Canaan, that was probably the biggest learning experience. A year later, knowing the kids better, the parents better, the town better … it was humbling going 4-5. That is something that I wasn’t used to, coming from such a dominant program, the most dominant program in Connecticut for the last 30-something years at the highest level of competition. Humbling, that’s the way I would describe it most.
TRR: You were given a lot of responsibility at New Canaan. What was the hardest part of running your own program?
JM: Trusting my coaches I think was probably the toughest. Not that they are bad. I hired great role models, great teachers. All of whom I deeply respect and admire. You are implementing a new offensive and defensive system, special teams and the hardest part for me, I got so used to (the New Canaan assistants) who I had been with for so many years, some of whom were there before I got there. They knew what you mean and not what you say. My personality was obviously different from (former coach Rich Albonizio), I had some of his former coaches on my staff and I brought in a lot of new coaches. For them to understand what I mean and not what I say, it is a working relationship. I think a year of being together year-round; they are my best friends and my family, not that they weren’t, but the more time we spend together the more we learn about each other.
TRR: How hard was it going from competing for a state championship every year to dealing with a losing record?
JM: I think for every loss a head coach has, they lose 50 to 100 hours of sleep, depending on who you are. I hate losing more than I like winning. That’s a quote I heard. When I was offensive coordinator at New Canaan I was constantly building a game plan, constantly trying to play the chess match. I still do that, I am still the play-caller for Greenwich and I have my fingerprints on the defense and special teams, more so than a year ago. I’m so much more engaged in being a better role model, what football can do for you 10, 20 years down the line. It is the greatest game that they can possibly play. What the game provides for young adults in one of the most confusing times of their lives. That’s what gets lost in all the hype. The kids want to make the catch, they want to make the tackle. The greatest coaches in the game, and I am going to put my dad up there, I’ll put Rob Trione, Marce (Petroccio). Those are guys I grew up idolizing and I see what they do for their kids. Those programs are what I look up to and my kids look up to. To try and instill that culture in Greenwich I think is going to take time.
TRR: I know you have been making a lot of offseason changes from things like your war room to a team app. What are you doing to help performance on the field?
JM: It’s not a secret that everyone knows I like technology, but the biggest change is the weight room. We have implemented a completely new and different weight program that I think more fits in line with the college level. And doing things more together, team bonding. I have four captains who have done a fantastic job, and they are all captains in other sports as well. When you have that type of leadership it is easier to stay on track.
TRR: What does it mean to you to have over 200 kids in the program right now?
JM: It’s incredible. Everyone is attacking football. Everyone’s numbers are going down, it seems, mine are going up. I keep kidding around with my AD saying he will have to buy more helmets.
TRR: You have stated you are on a five-year plan, but Greenwich is known as a win-now town with football. How do you try and build long term but have success in the present?
JM: My seniors have worked very hard and my goals and objectives at Greenwich are to win an FCIAC championship even though there’s no championship. If we go undefeated we’re the champions. And to win a state championship. That’s the year-in and year-out goal. That’s the way it should be for every single school. Why not strive for perfection? We have a great senior class and I feel good about them but it is a five-year plan from a culture standpoint. This is year two of the system. It is a very complex offensive and defensive system, especially at several positions. To plug and play, we’re not at that point yet.
I give my dad a lot of credit for giving me a ton of responsibility. I did a lot of the administrative work so that side of things I kind of knew, that part of things, and I had to implement it into Greenwich, which hadn’t had it implemented before. Learning a new town, new people, new families, a much different demographic than New Canaan, that was probably the biggest learning experience.
TRR: What is the team going to have to do on the field to be more successful?
JM: Looking back at last year, we need to improve on the passing game. Nowadays everyone in the FCIAC runs a version of the spread and we’re all spread. The keys for us is the passing game and the run defense. It sounds generic but it comes down to stopping a team and making them do what they don’t want to do. Those two things will keep us from playing Darien and not getting blown out, playing Ridgefield and not getting blown out. Bring it to the fourth quarter and at that point it is up to the will of the players.
TRR: You are a big 7 on 7 proponent but also have proper perspective on how it fits into things. You have had a good offseason with 7 on 7. Do you think that has put some false pressure on the team?
JM: No, absolutely not. Quote this, and say that I want you to quote it: I run a 7 on 7 tournament with other coaches, and there are so many coaches who say their kids are not going to be around, or their starting quarterback is not going to be around. Starting receivers are not going to be around. And I laugh when they say that and don’t play. Seven on 7 is not about scheme, it is not about football, it is about camaraderie. What’s good for kids. Our parents organized a lot of 7 on 7 for our boys to go to because I believe the camaraderie and bonding experience of what happens and no matter what happens at those events can only be drawn out as a positive. So what if you don’t win a game? You can’t draw positives out of that as a coach? So if you win every game? You can’t draw negatives out of that? I’ve never gone to a 7 on 7 and watched from the stands with the hope that my team wins the event. To me it’s crazy that coaches go there and want to win, and there are a lot of coaches like that. Winning comes at a cost. I’m a firm believer that a 7 on 7 is a great bonding experience, much like going to camp. You get to see your kids at times of adversity, how do they react? At times of success, how do they respond? I love that. Some kids step up, some kids don’t. Some kids learn how to step up. There are so many advantages that come of it that have nothing to do with winning and losing.
TRR: A lot of people have been talking up your team for the season based on 7 on 7. I know you believe that has nothing to do with what is going to happen starting in September, right?
JM: We’re not watching 7 on 7 tape, it’s not football. The success or lack of success … I was at New Canaan where I think we won two 7 on 7 games out of seven tournaments and we won a state championship. I think everyone puts it in perspective. Linemen challenges too. What does it mean to be the strongest? I don’t know. What does it mean to have the best passing offense in 7 on 7? I don’t know. Like I said, we do it just because it is based on bonding, it is based on camaraderie.