It’s not often that an American begins his Hall of Fame coaching career overseas, but that’s exactly what Joe Piane did.
Piane started coaching cross country and track & field in 1970 as a member of the Peace Corps after graduating from Loras College, where he was a captain of the Duhawks’ undefeated cross country team as a senior. Here’s the thing: Piane was based in Morocco, not the United States.
After a short stint overseas, Piane returned stateside and enrolled at Western Illinois University. It was there that he continued his education – and profession – as he assisted the cross country and track & field programs while earning his master’s degree in physical education.
It didn’t take long for Piane to find his way to South Bend, Indiana, where in 1974 he was hired by Notre Dame as an assistant coach for the track & field program. From that day forward, Piane laid the groundwork for a dynasty unlike any other the Irish had ever seen.
Piane spent one year as an assistant coach before legendary coach Alex Wilson retired, and Notre Dame handed the reins of the program to his protegé. Irish eyes were smiling on Piane as he won… and won… and won… and eventually became the second-longest tenured athletic coach in school history (Jack Kline coached the baseball team for 42 years).
From 1975 until his retirement in 2014, Piane’s men and women dominated the conference ranks and were a fixture on the national stage.
Want an idea of that success at the conference level? Try 54 league titles split between the Midwestern City Conference (Horizon League) and the Big East Conference. Piane’s cross country teams and indoor track & field teams combined for 28 titles in the former conference, while he won 26 BIG EAST crowns spread between each of the six sports he coached.
Athletes coached by Piane totaled 166 BIG EAST individual or relay titles between cross country and track & field, while 12 Irish athletes were named the Most Outstanding Performer of its indoor and outdoor championship meets.
Piane’s programs also left their mark on the national level with 189 All-America honors over the years: 97 in men’s track & field, 66 in women’s track & field, and 46 in cross country. All of those All-Americans in cross country added up to 14 combined top-10 team finishes – highlighted by a third-place finishes by his women and men in 2002 and 2005, respectively – and two National Coach of the Year honors in 1987 and 2001.
In addition to his collegiate coaching career, Piane assisted U.S. national track efforts via a variety of assignments — working with the USA Track & Field 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.