Eisenhower’s Marc Marinelli out to win — with fun as a key additive
GODDARD The rumor sped through Eisenhower High last spring that the new football coach was an old man, grumpy and scraggly-looking.
Then the football players met Marc Marinelli, and, well, it was such an erroneous description that offensive lineman Eddie Nunnelley was shocked. Marinelli is 32, still has his hair and is quick with a smile.
The players have since learned more about their coach than his outward appearance. He’ll make them laugh, make them work, and he has them convinced they will turn 2012’s one-win season into a winning one this fall.
Marinelli’s succinct in stating his goal: “I want Ike football to be the biggest show in town.”
“All the feedback I’m getting from the kids, the parents, the coaches, anyone involved, is they’re excited. He’s made them excited.” — Eisenhower athletic director Curtis Conrad
Marinelli’s first head coaching job was at Hesston, from 2010-12. He says he handled that first year all wrong.
“When I took that job, I thought they might not respect me,” he said. “I was going to lay down the law, be strict, procedural. I lost some kids. It took me two years to lose that, that I’m this hard guy to work with.
I came to Eisenhower saying, “We’re going to do this together. It’s going to be a journey, and we’re going to enjoy every minute of it.”
Marinelli was 21-11 at Hesston, including 5-5 in 2012. He was intrigued by the Eisenhower job because he’s basically taking over a new program. Eisenhower opened in 2011, but its football team combined with Goddard High the first year.
Can Marinelli turn Eisenhower football into a winning program? It’s a lofty goal.
In 2012, Eisenhower was 1-8 under Charlie Nally, who resigned as coach. In 21 seasons, Goddard has had seven winning seasons and four winless seasons.
“We’re a suburban school,” Conrad said. “… Traditionally in my seven years (at Goddard then Eisenhower), we have not been a strong football school. Even if you look at our kids walking the hallways, we do not have a great deal of size. We have some talent coming up and some talent now, but it’s the building of that tradition and that depth and getting the numbers where we need to be for a 5A school.”
Marinelli thinks he can do it. He believes Eisenhower has the talent to win games now — and in the future.
“(Conrad) tells me I don’t have to build it overnight, but I want to,” Marinelli said.
He has believers.
“If Eisenhower will give him a chance, he will make it a successful program,” said Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald, who coached Marinelli, a 1999 Mulvane graduate. “People will buy into what he does. He’ll sell his program for the right reasons, and other people will want to be a part of it. Even people not associated with football will buy in.”
Marinelli was Andale’s offensive coordinator for four years before taking over at Hesston.
“I knew he was going to move on and become a head coach,” Andale coach Gary O’Hair said. “I knew he’d be one of the top coaches in the state. He has high expectations. He wants to build the best program in the state of Kansas, and he’ll work as hard as he can to get that done.”
“When he first came to Hesston, I was still just a teacher. I had stopped coaching football. Within the first year, he had me back coaching football with him.… I think I’m helping him move furniture out of his house on Saturday, too.” — Hesston athletic director Clint Stoppel
Marinelli started recruiting in March, talking to Eisenhower coaches about the top athletes who played one sport or not at all.
He wrote letters to those not playing football. He also wrote to senior football players and sent them motivational videos. Then he took to Twitter, not only to research the type of athletes on his team, but to recruit.
He didn’t beg or plead. No, Marinelli spelled it out. Told them he wanted to win. Told them they could be a part of something special.
Along the way, he made them laugh, and they realized telling him no isn’t easy.
For the season’s first early-morning practice on Aug. 19, Eisenhower had 75 players. It was 10 below what Marinelli wanted, but a junior baseball player had just come out, and Marinelli was pleased.
Eisenhower now has 84 players.
One of Marinelli’s biggest recruits is Zach Geno, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound senior who had chosen not to play football.
“He motivated me to play and made a lot of other people happy and excited about football,” Geno said. “… Coach Marinelli is always in a good mood, and he makes you want to work harder.”
The most talented Eisenhower recruit is Trevon Evans, who has three Division I basketball scholarship offers and was named to The Eagle’s 2013 All-State team. Marinelli reached out to Evans with handwritten letters and on Twitter, sending him a story on former NBA star Allen Iverson, who played football his senior year of high school.
But would going after a single-sport athlete cause a rift among coaches? Not a chance.
“Trevon’s the best athlete in the school,” Eisenhower basketball coach Steve Blue said. “He should play other sports.”
Evans will be one of Eisenhower’s top wide receivers. While he admits to some nerves about getting hurt, he revels in playing football again for the first time since middle school.
“He’s a great coach,” Evans said. “Anyone who gets a chance to play with him is lucky. He’s awesome.”
“He’s so energetic, he’s funny, and he’s smart and he’s really passionate about anything that interests him. It makes me want to be around him. You get excited about the things that he’s excited about.” — Melisa Marinelli, Marc’s wife of nine years
Marc and Melisa met through a mutual friend while attending Kansas State, and since then she’s seen how Marc’s excitement about something usually results in her quickly jumping on that bandwagon.
Such as helmet decals.
Eisenhower ordered new decals, so Marinelli worked on new designs, constantly sending revisions to his wife for her thoughts. How could she not get excited?
The passion is evident during practice, too.
“This is the closest we get to a full-on scrimmage until Saturday,” Marinelli said urgently to his offense during the first week of practice. “Be the 11 to get this started.”
After a player did well on a play, his voice cracked as he yelled, “There you go, Mitch! There you go! There you go! Good job, O!”
When Jack Marinelli, the coach’s dad, attends games, he rarely watches the actual game.
“It’s so fun to watch him work games,” Jack Marinelli said. “I’m not a big sports fan. I’d rather watch him working rather than watch the game. He’s so intense. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s really a lot of fun.”
“I follow a lot of the kids on Twitter, and they talk about how great the practices are, how they enjoy it, how they want to be here.… He’s very personable, very fun to have around. At the same point, he’s very demanding, expects perfection.” — Eisenhower assistant Cary Dinkel
Marinelli is funny. He’ll drop obscure movie quotes at random times, or end e-mail conversations with “fo sho.”
He made his parents laugh through his entire childhood, and once walked into a psychology class taught by Fennewald, the Mulvane coach, and started laughing. A football coach teaching psychology? That’s crazy.
During warmups at practice, he walks through the various stations, his pinkish-red cup in hand. He even amuses as he corrects.
“If you do it right, Tre’s in the end zone and I’m yelling at him because he’s high-stepping,” Marinelli said.
Point made. Smiles return.
“His offensive mind is ridiculous.” — Hesston senior quarterback Wyatt McKinney
Look again at a picture of Marinelli. Does he look like a prototypical football coach?
“When I first met him, I was shocked,” Nunnelley said. “He didn’t look like a football player or anyone who knew anything about football.”
Nunnelley and the Tigers quickly learned, as the Hesston and Andale players before them, that Marinelli knows his football.
“Probably the first thing I noticed was how quickly he caught on to the concepts, the process. Just how sharp he was with the Xs and Os,” O’Hair said. “… There was a morning or two that I wasn’t there for (offensive line meetings). Some of those senior football players said, ‘Coach Marinelli, he knows what he’s talking about.’ They were impressed. Here he is a new coach, and they assumed it would probably take him a bit to catch up. But it wasn’t the case.”
“He’s such a family-oriented guy. Those kids and Melisa are No. 1 with him. They have the best family and have more fun together. They’re a riot to be around.” — Jack Marinelli
Melisa says Marc is the fun parent. The one who, when things get crazy at home, resorts to a trip to get ice cream for their three kids. Or to get them to clean up their room, he freely admits to playing dodgeball. When he hits them, they have to pick up five items.
As the first practice of the season neared, Marc Marinelli expressed worries about their son, Jackson, starting school in Goddard after the move from Hesston.
During a recent practice, Melisa brought the kids to see their dad. Jackson held his hand as Marc huddled with the offense about an upcoming play. Lucas stooped into a stance, waiting for Melisa to yell, “Down, set, hut!”
Marc Marinelli has brought that same sense of fun to his team. They had a get-together at a family member’s pool; he grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. The team has played paintball — and laughed as their coach ran screaming at them, despite being out of ammunition — and the slip-n-slide at practice.
Marc Marinelli isn’t all fun and games. He has high expectations. He expects that they don’t cuss. Follow his rules. Work hard. Improve.
For players who don’t live up to those rules, they can expect to run.
But after he calls a player out for messing up, count on him to reel that player back in.
“There’s times in practice where he chews me out real bad,” Nunnelley said. “But each time he chews me out, he’ll personally come up to talk to me and tell me, ‘Good job,’ no matter how bad I thought I did. After the end of the conversation, he’ll give me a hug. It doesn’t matter how bad we’re sweating or stink.”
“It’s like you see in the movies. We have become so close and feel like a family.”