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Purple Pride: Northwestern’s Pariano and UNI’s Schwab are proving they are more than surprise picks to coach
By Kyle Klingman
They would get there some day. How it would happen was unknown. Regardless of the circumstances … and their unique paths … they are here now. Doug Schwab, 33, and Drew Pariano, 34, are first-year head wrestling coaches. And with only 82 Division I schools that offer the sport, each is grateful for his current position.
Both say they arrived at this point naturally; that their future came from their past.
Schwab, Northern Iowa’s ninth head coach, was raised by the program he was recently hired to lead. His two older brothers were All-Americans at the school located in Cedar Falls, which is 66 miles south of his hometown of Osage.
Mike Schwab, the oldest, placed eighth in 1988, and Mark Schwab, the middle son, placed fifth in 1986 and sixth in 1990. The sight of the Doug, the youngest, running up and down the sidelines at duals or toweling off one of his brothers after a match was commonplace.
But Doug chose to wrestle at the University of Iowa. As a Hawkeye he was an NCAA champion in 1999 and a three-time All-American. Following his senior year in 2001, Schwab began his on-the-job training as a coach.
First it was at Minnesota with J Robinson, Marty Morgan, and Joe Russell. Then he went to Virginia Tech with Tom Brands, and then back to his alma mater when Brands was hired as Iowa’s head coach in 2006. Schwab worked with Dan Gable and Terry Brands during that time too.
Then, when the Northern Iowa position opened, Schwab, a second assistant at Iowa, applied for the job.
“Everything fell into place,” said Schwab. “It just happened. If you look at pro sports and college sports, younger guys seem to be getting the nod sooner. You (used to) have to be an assistant for so long and then you would get your chance. I think athletic directors are going to young, hungry guys who aren’t proven, but are going to hustle more than some of those other guys. Or they have a little more fire than some of those other guys.”
Pariano was also raised in wrestling. His father, Len, was the head wrestling coach at Baldwin Wallace, a small college in Ohio. His earliest childhood memories include van rides with college wrestlers.
A four-year starter at Northwestern, Pariano served as an assistant coach at John Carroll and Cornell College, two years as their head coach, before returning to Northwestern in 2005 as an assistant. He was named head coach last year when Tim Cysewski announced he was stepping down.
Instead of opening the job for a nationwide search, Cysewski met with the athletic director to ensure that the position was kept “in house.” Pariano’s former head coach as an athlete is now his associate head coach.
“It’s not a situation where (Tim Cysewski) is peering over my shoulder,” said Pariano. “I have my style; he has his style. And they both work. He’s a little old school and I think I bring a different dynamic for sure.”
Despite their enthusiasm, Schwab and Pariano have knocks against them. At least that is what they might tell you.
The knock against Schwab — according to Schwab — is public relations. How would he handle talking to people? How would he handle organizational duties, like staying within a budget and generating interest in the program?
Schwab may have silenced those detractors by increasing season ticket sales from 177 last season to over 700 this season. Much of that success came from speaking engagements throughout Iowa and staff phone calls to alumni and boosters.
“We wanted to get the fan base and the alumni back involved and we worked hard to do that,” said Schwab. “The turnout at the events that we’ve had has shown that. A lot of the calls that we’ve made — personal things that we’ve done — have shown that we’re going to get people back involved.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. I don’t know though. I’m not giving myself the grade. There are other people grading me.”
Perhaps Pariano’s biggest knock — publicly at least — was name recognition. The former Wildcat was a three-time NCAA qualifier from 1996 through 1999, but he was never an All-American.
Does lack of name recognition put a chip on Pariano’s shoulder? Some days. He just loves outworking other people. That puts a smile on his face.
“Our recruiting class last year was ranked two or three depending on the poll,” said Pariano. “How do you overcome (lack of name recognition)? One, my work ethic overcomes that.
“Wrestling is my lifeblood. I love it. Losing in the round of 12, not being a national champ, not being an All-American … it ticks me off. I’ll outwork the other coaches. I have no problem outworking the other coaches.”
The idea that athletic credentials are necessary to be a good coach is laughable to Pariano. If credentials are that important to a recruit then Pariano has assistant coach Jake Herbert to fall back on. Herbert was a two-time NCAA champion and 2009 World silver medalist who went through the Wildcat program.
Pariano would rather focus on his strengths: recruiting, wrestler development, and ingenuity. His master’s degree at John Carroll was business communication with an emphasis on marketing. Pariano’s thesis was redesigning the website at the university.
Although Pariano has his former head coach working alongside him, most of his staff is younger than he is. Herbert graduated from Northwestern in 2009 and Matt Storniolo, a two-time All-American from Oklahoma, graduated in 2007.
Schwab, however, has a staff older than he is. Doug hired his brother Mark, 43, as his top assistant. He also kept Randy Pugh, 33, on staff and brought Tolly Thompson, 37, on as the volunteer coach. Only Joe Slaton, Northern Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach and an NCAA runner-up for Iowa as a sophomore in 2008, is younger than Doug.
“Those guys are professional enough to know that if something needs to get done they don’t take it like I’m trying to boss them around,” said Schwab. “It’s what needs to be done for our program. At first it’s strange, but if something needs to get done then it needs to get done. It’s not a matter of age. Sometimes you have to act like the boss and you have to be very decisive.”
Pariano has another special characteristic as a coach: he cares about other programs. He wants other coaches to succeed, including Schwab.
“I respect the heck out of Schwab because he is one of those guys who did it as a competitor and he’s going to do it as a coach, and he’s a high-energy guy,” said Pariano, whose Wildcats beat Schwab’s Panthers, 26-6, on Nov. 14 in Evanston. “He’s in the right area to have success. He’s in wrestling country and we like to believe we’re in wrestling country too.”
The rest of the country will be watching what Schwab and Pariano can do for wrestling.
And nobody has higher expectations than they do.