Varsity Football

We call each other ‘Misfits’: New Northwest coordinator revitalizes doubted defense

Marc Marinelli’s life changed last October.

Coming off a first-round playoff exit to Salina Central, sealing a 3-6 season, Marinelli took to Twitter to announce his resignation as the Eisenhower High School football coach.

He said he wasn’t sure whether he would return to coaching. He needed the right job, the right circumstance. And, he said, he needed to spend more time with his family.

“It’s very humbling,” Marinelli said. “All football coaches think they’re pretty smart guys. But at the same time, I was looking at a team down the road that played for a 13th game and a state championship.”

A few weeks later, Wichita Northwest entered its Class 5A quarterfinal game against Bishop Carroll. Coach Steve Martin said then that he knew his offense would have to put up at least 70 points to win.

As it turned out, the Grizzlies only needed 68. Northwest won 84-67.

Seven days later, Northwest hosted Maize for the right to go to the state championship game. The Grizzlies’ defense gave up 60 but won again, scoring 67.

Enter Marinelli.

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Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Marinelli is a former assistant at Andale and a former player at Mulvane. Martin grew up in Andale and played Marinelli’s Mulvane team when the two were seniors. They’d later meet through coaching clinics.

Marinelli had been linked with the Northwest job and was working in the weight room when he got a call from Martin. Marinelli didn’t answer at first. But Martin kept calling.

Marinelli finally picked up, and Martin offered him the job as Northwest’s defensive coordinator.

“I’m in,” Marinelli said.

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Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Marinelli’s time at Eisenhower was filled with highs and lows.

Over six seasons from 2013-18, his teams went 22-38. But the Tigers won two regional championships and a sectional title.

Marinelli was named AVCTL II Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2017. He coached in the Shrine Bowl twice and took a program that started with 46 players to more than 100 by the time he left.

Eisenhower was picked to win AVCTL II last year in the preseason. Goddard had won the league two years straight but lost a huge senior class and its coach. Maize South, Andover and Andover Central were all still in rebuild mode.

Eisenhower had the pieces, but the season fell flat starting with a 44-7 loss at Salina Central in Week 1.

“I felt like I had taken the program as far as I could,” Marinelli said upon his resignation. “I’m disappointed in my performance as a head coach. I feel like this is the best thing for Eisenhower football.”

Eisenhower coach Marc Marinelli. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Martin says it’s great to have a second head coach on the field now. Martin is an offensive-minded coach. Last year, he had arguably the most explosive offense in Kansas, but he was often pulled away to work with the defense.

Through two games, Martin rarely talks with the defense. Marinelli calls the schemes, works with the players and helps them correct their mistakes.

More importantly for Martin, he said Marinelli is one of his best friends.

“It’s very hard to stay serious when it’s me and Coach,” Martin said. “We’re in our element. We get to hang out with a bunch of kids, but we’re kids at heart, too.

“Him coming over and really swallowing some pride, it’s hard. He’s been a head coach for so long. We talked, and I didn’t believe him that he wanted to come over here. I don’t get the quality of guys like that too often.”

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Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

So far this season, Northwest’s defense has been playing like men.

The Grizzlies are 2-0. They beat City League rival Bishop Carroll 21-17 in Week 1. The offense had five turnovers, and Carroll worked with a short field almost every time.

Marinelli’s defense came through.

Thursday night, Northwest beat Wichita East 75-8. It was the third-highest scoring game in Grizzlies football history, but the defense was the story.

Through East’s first five snaps, Northwest had three interceptions. Cornerback Wetu Kalomo had two of them and ran one back for a touchdown. Marinelli said he had never seen anything like it.

It was 34-0 with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first quarter. Senior linebacker Darrius Cooper said this season has been a “bounce-back process.”

“We’ve put in a lot of work in the offseason, and we started coming together,” he said. “Last year’s defense, we did a lot of arguing sometimes, and we didn’t really connect. This year, it’s just a stronger family.”

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Wichita Northwest defensive coordinator Marc Marinelli Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Marinelli said the biggest thing for him is that he’s back to having fun with football. He said having great players and coaches to work with makes things easy on him. And he said Martin allows him to be with his family whenever he needs.

“It’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time,” Marinelli said. “The right job was this one. All the boxes were checked.”

Before coaching at Eisenhower, Marinelli worked at Hesston. He took the Swathers to a pair of eight-win seasons and never had a losing record. Now he is back in another winning program.

Northwest is coming off a 5A state championship game appearance and figures to be in the mix again this fall. The Grizzlies went undefeated in the regular season and bring back two All-Metro players.

Still, the Northwest defense will be doubted. Last year, Northwest beat East 63-0 in Week 2 after beating Carroll in Week 1 - almost an identical scenario to this year.

Marinelli said this group is done talking about November. Northwest is focused on Week 3’s matchup at Great Bend, which is coming off a quarterfinal appearance.

“We play into the fact that people doubt us,” Marinelli said. “We call each other ‘The misfits.’ We’re all castoffs. That’s how we’re going to play, with a chip on our shoulder. I’m going to coach that way, and we’re going to get after you.”

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.