Marinelli, Trifone traveled similar roads to state final
SOUTHINGTON — If anyone can relate to John Marinelli’s story, it is Rob Trifone.
Three years ago, Marinelli was hired to run a once powerful Greenwich football program that was in a downswing.
In 2007, Trifone was in the same boat when he took over at the helm in Darien, a team with a rich football legacy but, at the time, in a bit of a funk.
Tuesday afternoon at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington, the two coaches stood side by side at the CIAC Football Media Luncheon as their teams mingled with the press.
Saturday, Marinelli and Trifone will be on opposite sidelines in the Class LL championship game at 11 a.m. at Boyle Stadium in Stamford.
The journeys to restoring their football teams to the top of the heap are remarkably similar.
In their first seasons as head coaches, both Trifone and Marinelli suffered through losing seasons with Trifone’s Blue Wave going 4-6 and Marinelli’s Cardinals posting a 4-5 record.
Both turned those losing seasons around very quickly, in the process ending long state-championship appearance droughts.
In 2008, Darien lost one game in the regular season, reaching the state championship game for the first time since 1999, losing to New Canaan in the Class L final.
In this his third year, Marinelli has his team unbeaten and playing for its first state championship since 2007.
For both the arrival happened sooner than they thought.
“Yes, we were rebuilding, but it is easier to do that when you have good players and Greenwich was never absent of talent,” Marinelli said. “It just took our coaching staff to get our methodology in during the offseason, which we are still working on. We are not there, yet. It is not just about the team. You need the town support and the community support and that has come faster than anything else in Greenwich. We are ahead of schedule, but the town has really embraced the culture of what we are trying to do.”
Both coaches faced similar challenges and both knew it was getting players on board with offseason work that would make or break them.
“It is difficult to get everyone to buy in to what you need to do in the offseason,” Trifone said. “When I told the parents we would be doing passing leagues in January or going to a sleep away camp at Central Connecticut, they were like ‘what?’ Once you have some success, they get on board. At first. It is a little rough, but if you have success, the road is easier.”
That commitment to offseason work has remained a constant at Darien and a big reason why the team is playing in its fifth-straight state final and going for its third Class LL championship in a row.
“Football is pretty much year-round for us. Once the season ends it is pretty much the next week we are back lifting and working and then you’re in the passing league and more lifting,” Darien senior defensive lineman Michael Neary said. “It’s all about having a love for the people who came before you and for the people who will come after you.”
That offseason after Marinelli’s first year as head coach, Greenwich players committed to the grind, seeing results in Year 2 in the form of a state tournament berth against none other than Darien.
This season, the team clicked right away and now sits on the cusp on its first state final appearance in 10 years.
“We are young and we had to learn how to gel together and play together and I think we have done a great job of doing that,” Greenwich senior defensive lineman Nick McIntosh said. “We do a lot, a lot in the offseason. We go from lifting, to yoga, to film, to 7-on-7s and a whole lot more. When we were freshmen we were 2-8 and to make a complete turnaround shows how hard we worked to get here. Each year we progressively got better and took to the coaching more.”
The paths are similar and Saturday they both will write another chapter in their schools’ storied histories.
The only thing not yet known is which story will have a happy ending?