John Marinelli grew up playing against the Greenwich High School football team as a quarterback and safety for New Canaan. He also coached against the Cardinals, serving as the Rams' offensive coordinator under his father, Lou Marinelli -- the team's legendary coach.

This fall, however, Marinelli will be standing on Greenwich's sideline.

Marinelli, who has served as offensive coordinator at New Canaan since 2009, was named Greenwich's new football coach the school announced Wednesday, shortly after 2 p.m. A 2003 New Canaan High School graduate, Marinelli called Greenwich athletic director Gus Lindine Wednesday, letting him know that he accepted the job.

"It's surreal, I'm very humbled," Marinelli, 29, said. "This is a special place, so being here is a big deal. It's a very exciting time for me."

The opening for a coach at Greenwich was created when Rich Albonizio resigned on Jan. 22, after leading the Cardinals for 18 seasons. Albonizio coached Greenwich to five FCIAC championships and three Class LL state titles during a tenure that saw him amass 170 victories.

"Rich Albonizio is like an uncle to me," Marinelli said. "Lou Marinelli, Marce Petroccio (Staples coach), Rich Albonizio -- those were the coaches that I watched and learned from. He (Albonizio) built an empire here, so I hope to continue the great tradition this program has."

Lindine said Marinelli was selected for the job from a strong pool of candidates.

"We were careful in our process and tried to do it as quickly and carefully as we could," Lindine said. "John is an exceptional young man and will provide great leadership to our boys. He's bright, motivated, enthusiastic and we look forward to having our team and the community get to know him."

Said GHS headmaster Chris Winters: "We are pleased to have John leading our storied football program. We expect John to infuse new ideas and techniques into a tradition-rich program."

During his football days at New Canaan, Marinelli earned first-team All-State honors his senior season as a quarterback and safety for his father, helping lead the Rams to the Class M state title in 2001 and 2002. After graduating from New Canaan, he spent a postgraduate year at Canterbury School, where he named to the All-New England team as a quarterback.

Marinelli played at Fordham University his freshman year, then transferred to Trinity College, where he excelled, making the All-NESCAC team in 2008 and 2009 as a standout safety. He credits his father, who has guided New Canaan to 10 state championships and five FCIAC titles over the past 34 years, for instilling his special interest in the sport.

"I have been blessed to have the father I have," said Marinelli, who is a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual in Manhattan. "He has molded me into a coach and thanks to football, we share a pretty special bond."

Greenwich's new coach began calling plays for New Canaan in 2009 and ironically, it came in a game against the Cardinals. Since then, he helped the Rams become one of the most dangerous offensive squads in the state, while coaching and learning, under his father.

"My father is the smartest football mind I've ever met," Marinelli said. "Not only that, he cares about Connecticut football and is such a great advocate for the sport in the state. He has such an impact on me. I wouldn't be sitting here today if wasn't for him."

Though it's difficult, Lou Marinelli is proud to see his son receive the opportunity to serve as coach of the high profile program.

"It's a double-edge sword, but he has been preparing for this since he was a kid," Lou Marinelli said. "It will be hard for me because working with him every day was so special. But what a great program to go to. It is a great job with a great tradition and I am just so proud of him. He has put in so much work with our program and we will miss him."

Said John Marinelli: "I always envisioned myself being a head coach and the timing seemed right now. I had a lot of fun coach with my dad and my idol, Chris Silvestri (New Canaan assistant coach). It's sad to say goodbye, but this is also a very exciting time in my life."

Developing offensive schemes, analyzing practice and game film, calling plays -- Marinelli relished those tasks as an offensive coordinator and he's looking forward to expanding his role as a head coach.

"Film watching and preparation is great, I love the chess match involved in planning for the opponent," Marinelli said. "Being on the field with the kids -- that's the most fun. I love being at practice and I love gamedays. Is it September yet?, I'm ready to get going."

As for playing against his dad when Greenwich meets FCIAC rival New Canaan this fall.

"My mom may be on my sideline, I don't know," laughed Marinelli. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Right now, Marinelli is focusing on getting his coaching staff set up, as he sets his sights on his new football role. He takes over a Greenwich team that finished 7-4 last season

"I'm going to surround myself with great coaches for the kids, who are great role models," said Marinelli, who will get his first look at the Cardinals when spring football begins in early June. "I am a high energy guy and I think my energy will rub off. I want to get to know everything Greenwich High School that I didn't know about. I want to talk to past players, alumni and dive into the history of the program."

david.fierro@scni.com; 203-625-4423.