NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Joe Piane — a two-time national cross country coach of the year, tutor of 189 Irish All-Americans and a longtime fixture on the Notre Dame campus as head coach of the Irish men’s cross country and men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs — has announced his retirement after 39 seasons in those roles.
Piane will step down June 30 following the end of the 2014 Irish outdoor track and field season. He leaves having concluded the second-longest tenure of any Notre Dame athletic coach in history — behind only former Irish baseball coach Jake Kline’s 42 seasons (1934-75).
The Irish track and field teams compete at an NCAA preliminary qualifying meet May 29-31 in Jacksonville, Fla., and finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed playing a part in the growth and the accomplishments of Notre Dame track and field and cross country over a long period of time,” Piane said. “Our programs, like all those at Notre Dame, have grown by leaps and bounds over the years and we have been fortunate to become more and more nationally competitive during that time.
“I will miss hearing that starter’s pistol go off, but it’s time for someone else to take a turn leading track and field at Notre Dame. I hope we leave the programs in great shape for continued success, now at the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA levels.”
Over 18 seasons in the Big East Conference (1996-2013), Piane’s teams won 26 championships — 13 men’s track and field indoor and outdoor titles, five women’s track and field indoor and outdoor crowns, to go with five men’s cross country and three women’s cross country titles (Piane also oversees the women’s cross country squad led by assistant Tim Connelly).
Piane and his staff earned Big East track and field coaching staff-of-the-year honors all 18 times they won championships. They also received the same Big East award three times in men’s cross country.
Piane’s final season in 2014 — and Notre Dame’s first in the ACC — already has produced noteworthy headlines. The 2014 track and field season featured 12 Notre Dame All-Americans from the NCAA indoor championships, including both distance-medley relay teams (the Irish women finished third, the men finished fourth).
“Notre Dame owes Joe a great debt of gratitude for the long-term job he has done building and maintaining his programs at an elite level,” Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick said. “He has tutored a long list of champions, and he has put Notre Dame track and field and cross country teams in position to regularly compete for titles.”
Piane’s overall record at Notre Dame speaks for itself:
26 All-America honors by his Irish men’s cross country runners.
11 top-10 NCAA men’s cross country team finishes over the past 25 seasons, highlighted by third-place finishes in 1990 and 2005 (the program’s best showing since winning the 1957 NCAA title).
97 All-America men’s track and field team citations since 1974; the women’s team has received 66 such accolades since 1994.
A pair of NCAA championship performances — in 2001 when Ryan Shay won the NCAA outdoor 10,000 meters and in 2012 when Jonathan Shawel, Chris Giesting, Randall Babb and Jeremy Rae finished first in the outdoor distance medley relay.
166 Big East individual or relay titles in track and field and cross country, with 12 Irish named the conference’s outstanding track or field performer at its indoor or outdoor meets.
Piane has been named NCAA Division I National Cross Country Coach of the Year on two different occasions (1987 and 2001), while garnering five district/regional coach of the year honors and nine league cross country coach of the year plaques.
Among Piane’s most productive pupils have been nine-time All-American, 2001 NCAA champion and 2003 USA Marathon champion Ryan Shay (a 2001 Notre Dame graduate); four-time All-American and three-time Big East champion quarter-miler Liz Grow (2002); four-time All-American and four-time Big East champion long jumper Tameisha King (2003); eight-time All-American, six-time Big East champion and sub-four-minute miler Luke Watson (2003); 10-time All-American, seven-time Big East champion, former United States 5,000 meters record-holder and 2012 Olympic Games qualifier Molly Huddle (2007); two-time All-American, three-time Big East champion pole vaulter and 2012 Olympic Games alternate Mary Saxer (2009), and two-time All-American and six-time Big East champion pole vaulter Kevin Schipper (2012).
Piane has assisted U.S. national track efforts via a variety of assignments — working with the USA Track staff, guiding numerous U.S. squads in international competitions (including a U.S. Pan American juniors team), serving as Midwest regional chairman for U.S. Olympic Development in track and field and coaching in the National Sports Festival.
Piane is the creator of Notre Dame’s National Catholic Championship, an annual meet held on campus since 1980. He also founded the Meyo Invitational and the Alex Wilson Invitational, both traditional indoor Notre Dame track and field meets that invite elite track and field athletes and teams from around the country.
A 1969 graduate of Loras, Piane ran track and cross country for four years at the Dubuque, Iowa, institution. He captained Loras’ undefeated cross country squad as a senior, while excelling in middle distance events during the track season. He was inducted into the Loras Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002. Piane assisted the track and cross country programs at Western Illinois while earning a master’s degree in physical education.
Working for the Peace Corps, he began coaching track and field and cross country in 1970 in Morocco. Born in Westchester, Ill., Piane joined the Notre Dame staff in 1974 as an assistant track coach and then replaced Alex Wilson as head track and cross country coach a year later.