Standing inconspicuously in a corner of Joe Piane's office, this wooden leprechaun statue is one of the more intriguing artifacts in the office of the longtime Fighting Irish track & field/men's cross country coach.

Joe Piane: If His Office Walls Could Talk

Sept. 11, 2013

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What do you find if you walk into the office of a University of Notre Dame head coach? What’s on the walls that provide some insight into the past, the interests or the philosophies of each of those individuals? During the 2013-14 athletic season, we’ll take you into each of those offices and show and tell you about some items of significance and why they are meaningful.

Joe Piane, the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s track and field coach and men’s cross country coach, qualifies as the longest-tenured Irish head coach in any of the 26 Irish varsity sports. He took over that role in 1975.

So, it’s no accident that the wall at the end of the suite of track and field offices — just before you turn left into Piane’s office — features a combination of the old and new.

Framed on the wall are four black and white photos — the largest showing the old Notre Dame Fieldhouse, its clay surface home to indoor track until the Athletic and Convocation Center debuted in 1969. Another photo shows former Irish football coach Knute Rockne, who also started cross country at Notre Dame.

Following his standout football-playing career, Knute Rockne got his first head coaching job at the helm of the Fighting Irish track & field program in 1914 (in addition to a role as assistant football coach) before gaining legendary status as the head football coach at Notre Dame from 1918-30.

Displayed to the left and right of those photos are 25 trophies celebrating BIG EAST Conference championship or runner-up finishes in men’s or women’s indoor or outdoor track or men’s or women’s cross country. In the midst of those are 15 pieces of hardware signifying BIG EAST coach- or staff-of-the-year honors.

Atop another nearby desk are four more pieces of BIG EAST staff-of-the-year hardware representing success with the 2012 men’s indoor and outdoor seasons and the 2013 women’s indoor and outdoor campaigns. In the middle of those are two Drake Relays champion trophies based on blue ribbons for the Irish women’s 4×800 relay squads in both 2012 and 2013.

Piane hopes all those will be complemented soon by similar items denoting Atlantic Coast Conference successes.

In all, Piane’s tenure has produced 37 coach-of-the year trophies — including national cross country coach-of-the-year pieces from 1987 and 2001. There are so many, he’s not sure what has happened to them all.

“I know there used to be a bunch of them back in the hallway, but we really didn’t have room for all of them,” says Piane.

The most prominent item is a large trophy for Notre Dame’s fourth-place finish in the 2004 NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championship.

Make the turn into Piane’s actual office and there are a couple of things that jump out.

The track offices are the only ones with windows into the north dome of the Joyce Center — and Piane’s office includes a doorway to a balcony that overlooks what now is the Irish fencing venue.

When the Irish played hockey at that location, the balcony offered a perfectly-lofted view from one corner of the rink — and spectators there often included former athletics director Moose Krause, his assistant Col. Jack Stephens and former hockey coach Lefty Smith.

“It was a great place to watch a hockey game, and Moose and Lefty, in particular, spent a lot of time on that perch,” says Piane.

In the corner is a bright green, three-foot-tall, wooden leprechaun with a pipe in his mouth.

Piane and his family have traveled all over the world, with this photo on his bookshelf depicting he and his son, Nick, riding camels in the Sahara Desert.

“I found that about 20 years ago up in Door Country in Wisconsin. I wish there was a more exciting story about it, but there’s not,” Piane says.

There are plenty of family photos on a bookshelf, most including his wife Mimi and son Nick. Several represent their world travels, including one with Joe and Nick on camels in Morocco — and another showing the seaside village of Simi in Greece.

Piane estimates he has made 30-40 personal trips to foreign countries (and that doesn’t count the track teams he’s taken or coached overseas) — dating way back to 1970 when he spent time in Morocco while serving in the Peace Corps. For years, he and Mimi traveled to Greece nearly every summer. More recently, they’ve been to Egypt, cruised the Amazon River, cruised around Cape Horn from Santiago to Buenos Aires — while also visiting the Galapagos Islands.

There are five framed campus shots on the walls, including one winter scene painted by former Notre Dame admissions director Dan Saracino (himself a former Notre Dame track and field runner).

More than anything, Piane’s space oozes track and field:

  • Taped on the wall right behind his desk is a single sheet that listed 2012-13 BIG EAST track and field championship standards. It’s the basis of measuring success for his student-athletes.
  • On top of the bookshelf are a dozen bright blue NCAA Championship batons, signifying trips by Irish relay teams to the national meet.
  • There’s a national coach-of-the-year plaque, a 1990 NCAA Championships men’s cross country third-place trophy and a Loras College (Piane’s alma mater) Hall of Fame plaque.
  • Stacked against the wall are 15 framed photos (waiting for homes) of many of Piane’s best former athletes.
  • There’s a personal favorite — a montage of images (created by a parent of one of his runners) of Notre Dame’s 2012 NCAA champion men’s distance medley relay unit.
  • There’s a Wrigley Field baseball in a Lucite cube — a testament to Piane’s longtime interest in the Chicago Cubs.

This framed art piece in the Notre Dame track & field/cross country outer offices includes an actual piece of the track (bottom center) from the Olympic Stadium at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

There’s not much that Piane considers particularly sentimental. It’s all more representative of the sum total of a long and successful career, and the teams and athletes with whom he has worked.

“If you added it all up, there would be an amazing number of athletes and meets and seasons represented in all these different trophies and photos that are somewhere in here. And, after all, the student-athletes are the reasons we all are here,” says Piane.

Also on the walls in the outer office are multiple framed pieces of artwork representing the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta — plus a montage of the late Ryan Shay, the record-setting Irish distance runner who died in 2007 while running in the United States Olympic Marathon Trials in New York.

On the desk itself is a pile of schedules as Piane plots daily cross country workouts for the 2013 fall season.

You won’t see any catchy slogans or pithy phrases on the wall.

It’s a no-frills approach for a Notre Dame coach who has been at his job a long time and shows no particular signs of slowing up.

— John Heisler, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations