Sept. 16, 1999
By Alan Wasielewski
Joe Piane enters his 25th year as head coach of the Notre Dame cross country and track and field teams, the longest stint of any Irish coach currently on staff.
Piane began coaching at the University as an assistant in 1974 under then head coach Don Faley, before being promoted to the head coaching position in 1975. While at Notre Dame, Piane has received numerous honors such as NCAA Division I national cross country coach of the year in 1987, while staying active on both the national and international levels.
Piane, a native of Westchester, Ill., graduated from Loras College in 1969, where he ran both track and cross country.
Q: What is the first thing you think of when someone reminds you that it is your 25th anniversary as head coach at Notre Dame?
A: It is amazing how quick it has gone. When I first came here I was going to stay a year or two and move on. The years seem to just rocket by.
Q: Why did you originally come to Notre Dame?
A: I was offered the job as assistant track coach (in 1974). It was either come here and become the assistant track coach or go to the University of Utah and work on my PHD. After a year, the head coach here moved on and I was offered the head job.
Q: What is your earliest memory of your time here?
A: I can remember the real early times I was a lot younger and I could go out and run with the guys and really enjoy the camaraderie that developed. Now, in terms of remembering the first real success, that would be the first year I was here as an assistant. We sent several guys to the NCAA championship in cross country. That was a lot of fun.
Q: Who are some of the best runners you have coached at Notre Dame?
A: That is hard to say, because we’ve had a lot of tremendous kids. Probably the best runner for me, although I may be partial because we have remained great friends, would have to be Chuck Aragon (1977-80). He went from a 4:27 mile to a 3:55 in about six weeks. That was just amazing.
Steve Dziabis (1980-83), what an improvement that kid made. He came in as just an average high school runner and when he graduated he was a “horse”. It was fun to watch Dziabis improve. Both he and Aragon are both physicians now.
I also had Danny Garrett (1985-89). You could see a distinct change in our cross countryprogram when Garrett arrived. He came in with blinders on and was determined to be good no matter what. He had a profound effect on our cross country program. Rarely do you see a freshman come in that focused and with that kind of character.
We also have had some great field event athletes, too. Mike Brown (1995-99), who just graduated, was a wonderful kid. Mike Fleisch (1995-97) also was a great kid to be around.”
Q: Even though coach Tim Connelly is in charge of the women’s cross country team, you have a hand in their development too. Who has been the best women’s runner you have seen at Notre Dame?
A: I don’t think you can go beyond JoAnna Deeter (1997-current). She has really been a marvel. Last year, she was a four time All-American, despite not being highly-touted coming out of high school.
I also cannot forget Erica Peterson (1993-1996), our first female track All-American. She was a great and wonderful girl.
Sarah Riley (1992-95) was our first cross country All-American and did a great job.
Q: What year was the most unusual or sticks out in your mind since you started at Notre Dame?
A: Well, the most unusual would probably be 1975, because it was my first year as head coach and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if I was on foot or horseback. It was a strange year.
Maybe 1987 was one of my best years. I was national cross country coach of the year and no one expected us to do anything that year. (Notre Dame finished sixth in the country at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1987, its highest finish since 1964.)
Q: What has been the biggest change in the track and field program at Notre Dame?
A: The facilities. No doubt about it. When I started here we had a cinder track and a tenth of a mile indoor track. Now, we have a very nice outdoor track and a fifth of a mile indoor track. The facilities have really improved.
Q: What do you see in the future of the cross country/track and field program at Notre Dame?
A: The women’s program is improving by leaps and bounds. Two years ago, they were 12th in the BIG EAST and last year they were third and they are going to get even better this year. The men have been at a pretty high level for the last 15-20 years. I see no reason why that will not continue.
Q: How long do you think you’ll keep coaching?
A: Probably quite a while – 35 sounds like a nice round number.