As Anthony Riggi completed a 60-yard pass to Brian Balsalmo to open the Suffolk quarterfinals against West Islip, you were witnessing the evolution of Gary Marangi’s prowess at work.
Marangi came to Sachem East as its new offensive coordinator when Mark Wojciechowski took over as head coach in March. He brought an NFL background and unheralded high school coaching resume to the table. Since Wojciechowski said he could handle the offense in its entirety, the offer was enticing.
This was when East was still coming off an 0-8 season and 1-15 stretch, not the most pleasant of situations to step into.
“Woj said ‘Do whatever you want, set up the offensive program and get us going,’” Marangi said. “To me, that’s what I always wanted, to run my own show. We can’t get any worse. I had a confidence with the people he put together that we were going to be alright. They worked hard. They bought into his plan. They took one game at a time. The more the confidence built, they just started going on a roll.”
Roll they did as they won a program-record six games, won East’s first playoff game by upsetting West Islip in the quarterfinals before losing to Sachem North in the semifinals.
It was Marangi’s offensive vision, coupled with Tony Gambino’s defensive game plan, which aided in East’s resurgence. Unless East’s players have Googled Marangi’s name, or saw the pictures posted in the coach’s office of Marangi playing for the Buffalo Bills, seldom will he talk about his days as an NFL quarterback.
Marangi grew up in Elmont and played football and lacrosse. His senior year in 1970, Elmont won the Long Island championship in lacrosse and went 21-0. He was coached by Richie Moran, a legend in lacrosse for what he did on Long Island and at Cornell. His football team was also 8-0 when he was a senior, playing for Jack Salerno.
At Boston College he played four years, but didn’t start until his junior season, playing in the East-West and North-South All-Star games. Marangi was the second player ever drafted in the World Football League and was eventually selected in the third round of the NFL Draft in 1974 by the Buffalo Bills.
“I was a little disappointed it was Buffalo because I was sick of the cold weather,” he said.
During his rookie season he started a game against Miami in which the Bills clinched a division title. His first pass was a 44-yard touchdown to J.D. Hill.
Buffalo’s star player at the time was O.J. Simpson.
“He was always good to his teammates, great to his linemen,” said Marangi. “The team was doing well, we made the playoffs. He was on top of the world.”
It wasn’t long before Marangi's shoulder started hurting, and after a number of operations, he was traded to Green Bay, but couldn’t pass the physical. He dressed in four games with Cleveland in the sunset of his career in 1977 and that was it.
“The thing you realize now is it’s just a business and you have to treat it like that,” he said. “Not preparing yourself, thinking it’s going to go on forever. Thinking it could go game-by-game is a mistake.”
Marangi played 19 games over four seasons and was 104-for-283 passing for 1,373 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Growing up only minutes from Belmont Racetrack, Marangi had an affection for race horses. After football he began training horses at Roosevelt Raceway for about 15 years until the track closed. Then it was on to construction and other jobs until his cousin, a coach at Connetquot, asked him to volunteer as an assistant with the football program.
“I saw how much I liked coaching,” he said. “The only way to do this and be serious about it was to get my education and be around it full-time.”
He received his master’s degree from Adelphi and helped Connetquot win a Suffolk County title in 1994, before losing to Massapequa in the Class I Long Island championship.
The following year it was onto Port Jefferson High School where he gained full-time work and eventually onto Patchogue-Medford in 2001 where he was named dean at the high school. In 2002, with Marangi calling plays, the Raiders beat Sachem in the Suffolk County championship and won a Long Island title.
He stayed there until 2006 as a coach, but is still the dean of the high school today. It was back to Connetquot to coach from 2008-2010 and like clockwork the Thunderbirds won a county and Long Island title in 2008.
To his players, he’s an open book of knowledge. He’s also very approachable.
“That might be what got me to where I am now, by asking questions and having an understanding coach to tell me the right way to do it,” said Sachem East quarterback Anthony Riggi. “He knows what he is doing and when he tells me to do something, I'm going to do it without hesitation. I trust him with everything he does and tells me.”