New Canaan’s Marinelli about more than football
The numbers speak for themselves with 319 career victories, 11 state championships and more personal coaching awards than can be counted.
It is no surprise New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli is being inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame this fall, but the coach has always cherished the lives he is able to touch over the trophies he is able to hoist.
Since 2006, the New Canaan football program has won two FCIAC and seven state championships, including the current streak of three in a row beginning in 2013.
Yet it was the year wedged in the middle of this run — 2012 — that stands out to those who were around the program as maybe its most important season.
No championships were won that season, the Rams lost three games and Marinelli barely remembers anything about any of the games played.
After a big win over rival St. Joseph in that 2012 season, Marinelli said this to MaxPreps:
LOU MARINELLI FILE
Career record: 319-99-7 (Most wins among active Connecticut coaches)
Record at NCHS: 300-92-6
Record vs Darien: 23-15-1
State Championships: 11 (1982, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015)
FCIAC Championships: 5 (1993, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2013)
Multiple times FCIAC Coach of the Year, National Football Foundation Coach of the Year, Hall of Fame Coach of the Year, Walter Camp Football Foundation’s Connecticut Coach of the Year
2002 Connecticut High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year
Gerald R. Ford Award for Outstanding Coaching by the All-American Football Foundation, the Legendary Coach Award by the MSG Network and has been a finalist for the National Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association on two separate occasions (2007, 2010)
Member of the Connecticut High School Hall of Fame, FCIAC Hall of Fame, Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame
“I mean, when I’m walking around in a daze on the sidelines, going off because God knows where my head is, I have these guys who are focused in, and really doing a great job. I really have to credit them ... I don’t wish this on anybody, but if you have to go through it, I want these people around.”
Marinelli was not talking about a sub-par football season.
Sure, the Rams were having a rough year by their standards, but what Marinelli was dealing with off the field was bigger than any game.
Early on the morning of July 8, Marinelli and his wife, Frances, were awakened by a phone call from the state police telling them their daughter Anna had been involved in a serious car accident.
Anna’s Mini Cooper had veered off the Merritt Parkway, crashing into a tree and leaving her with a catastrophic leg injury and in an induced coma at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
For the next several months Marinelli would spend every moment he could by Anna’s side, putting in 22-hour days between his bedside vigil and his coaching and teaching responsibilities at New Canaan.
At one point with his daughter still in the coma, the Marinellis had to make the heart-wrenching decision whether to allow Anna’s leg to be amputated.
The Marinellis decided against the procedure, but the stress of his child’s condition nearly led Marinelli to step aside as the Rams’ coach.
“That conversation did come up, but mom wouldn’t let him quit. No way was she going to let him leave the job,” Marinelli’s son, and assistant coach at the time, John Marinelli said. “He was putting in 22-hour days, only going home to feed the dog. He was missing some practices and mentally that year he was elsewhere. We went 9-3 and I don’t think he even knows that.”
Marinelli’s wife, Fran, said leaving coaching would have been the worst decision of her husband’s life.
“He loves what he does so much and if he left coaching it would take away a huge part of Lou,” Fran said. “If he ever quit he would not be the same person and it wasn’t necessary. We were facing a serious situation with Anna, but him quitting wouldn’t have helped.”
What Marinelli was able to do was delegate responsibilities to John and defensive coordinator Chris Silvestri, who tried to run the team the way they thought Lou would.
“I don’t know how he did it,” said John, now the head coach at Greenwich. “My parents are superheroes for what they went through and how they handled it. The thing people may not realize is my mom is the rock, my dad is a softy, really. He comes off as a hard-nosed football coach, but he is an emotional guy, he cries at pre-game speeches, post-game speeches and that year he had a really hard time.”
That late October day at St. Joseph in 2012, with Anna finally out of the coma and more stable, something else wonderful happened besides the Rams beating the Cadets.
It was the first game attended by Marinelli’s new grandchild, born to his older daughter Francesca a month before Anna’s crash.
Anna kept her leg and eventually recovered enough to be on the sidelines for games in 2013.
There she joins her mom, uncle, 98-year-old grandmother and other family at every game.
Coincidentally or not, the Rams have been on a tear since her return to the sidelines, winning three-straight state championships, with Lou no doubt inspired by her recovery.
After every game, as players, fans and media clear out of Dunning Field, Marinelli can be found standing on the field surrounded by family and usually bouncing one of his two grandchildren in his arms.
Win or lose, it is his happiest time.
Marinelli was always about family but what happened on that morning in July 2012 made every moment after games a little more special.
Marinelli had always been there for the game, his players and the community, but in 2012 all of those people were there for him.
“I know football saved his life that year,” John said. “My mom was right for making him stay because that time at practice or games, even if he wasn’t there mentally, was so valuable to him as a distraction from the hospital.”
Marinelli is a very private person and did not speak much about Anna’s accident, but the New Canaan community rallied around the long-time coach and the outpouring was incredible.
Families went to local delis every day, bringing food to the family and making sure they were cared for after Lou had given so much to New Canaan over the years.
The emails and phone calls from former players were non-stop as everyone rallied around Marinelli.
Marinelli had given so much to the town, doing everything from leading teams in charity races and golf tournaments, mentoring students outside school who needed guidance to driving players on college visits when parents were not available, and it was time for the town to give back.
“The community means an awful lot to me,” Marinelli said. “All three of my children went to New Canaan High school and I can’t say enough about how that town has taken us all in over the years. I didn’t even know where New Canaan was and I had no intentions on coming to New Canaan, but Vinny Iovino (former New Canaan athletic director) brought me in here and I’m glad he did. If there is no Vinny Iovino there is no Lou Marinelli.”
‘Welcome to Connecticut football’
Iovino hired Marinelli in 1981 after the former Rams’ coach Tom Anderson stepped down following three straight winless seasons..
That may be hard to fathom considering New Canaan’s rich football history, but Marinelli inherited a team that was 0-25 over three years and a senior class that had never experienced a Rams’ victory.
Iovino said he chose Marinelli, who was the head coach at Yorktown High School in New York, over 75 other applicants because he felt Marinelli was the perfect role model for high school boys and someone he would want his own son to play for.
“The vision I had when I hired Lou is basically what has transpired,” Iovino said. “Lou loves all the kids in his program, loves the community and has a personality people gravitate toward. He is the perfect match for that community. I used to get teary-eyed saying goodbye to kids who never won a football game in their high school career and Lou has ensured that never happened again.”
Less than a minute into his first game in 1981, Marinelli was not so sure he made the right choice and the voice of Iovino over his shoulder did not help.
“From the very first game I said ‘What have I gotten myself in to?’ ” Marinelli said. “We played Rippowam High School and we kick off to them and the kid runs it back all the way for a 95-yard touchdown. That was my first play in Connecticut football. Vinny Iovino, who is responsible for me being here, walked up behind me and said ‘Welcome to Connecticut football.’ ”
The Rams went 4-5 that year, but finished 8-2 the following year, winning Marinelli’s first of many state championships at the school.
The championships and accolades accumulated over the years, but Marinelli is as concerned with counting how many weddings and christenings his former players invite him to rather than the wins he was accruing.
In fact, John had to tell his father when he was approaching 300 wins in 2014 because Marinelli had no idea he was in such rarefied air.
‘More of a parent than a coach’
Although he is now the winningest active coach in Connecticut, Marinelli is more proud of the lives he has impacted along the way.
Lives such as Bruno Dorismond who graduated in 2003.
Dorismond was a shy kid, son of a Haitian immigrant living in predominantly white New Canaan and coping with learning disabilities. It was Marinelli who convinced him to try out for football freshman year.
It was a decision that changed Dorismond’s life.
“He saw me in the hallway and recruited me,” Dorismond said. “He would do that all the time. See a kid who needed guidance or wasn’t doing anything and recruit them to come out and play football. And he would work with every player, not just the stars. He would spend just as much time at practice with the third-string kicker. He loves football, but he likes helping people more.”
Marinelli’s belief in Dorismond was not unique, but in this case the love was needed a little more.
“Lou never writes anybody off,” Iovino said. “Bruno was a very special kid in a lot of ways. Being a minority in New Canaan can be a tough road, but Bruno had something special about him and Lou recognize that. Lou and I and our wives drove Bruno to the University of Maine before his freshman year. It is one of the best things we have ever done and to see him grow was incredible.”
It didn’t end there, Marinelli stayed in touch with Dorismond as he does with many players through college and beyond, attending Dorismond’s wedding last year.
“He just spoke to Bruno last week,” Fran Marinelli said. “Bruno was like a son to Lou, but he was not the only one. Lou drove a lot of kids to college visits, helped them with recruiting and getting their grades up enough for college. He cares so much about all his players. But some are really special and Bruno is one of those.”
Dorismond went from never playing football and not doing well enough in school to go to college to becoming Maine’s captain his senior season and leading the team with a 3.86 grade-point average.
After school, he held jobs in social services. including a stint working at Kids in Crisis in Greenwich, all, he says, because of what he took away from his time with Marinelli.
“Lou was a father-figure to me really much more of a parent than a coach,” Dorismond said. “I learned way more life lessons from him than I did about football. A lot of people know about him as a coach, but he has touched so many people’s lives.”
Marinelli will leave the trophy cases at New Canaan filled, but his greatest victories will be the lives like Dorismond’s he has touched.
It will be his true legacy when he is no longer on the sideline.
That is, whenever his wife finally lets him retire.