Aug. 16, 2006
SEATTLE - There are a number of people behind the scenes who make a significant contribution to the well-oiled machine that is Washington Husky football. The team behind the team includes sports medicine, office administration, athletics communications, academic and student support services, university catering and more.
A vital piece of the support staff that keeps the Husky program among the best in the nation is longtime equipment manager Tony Piro. A 1982 graduate of the UW with a degree in political science, the Seattle native has been a member of the athletics staff for the past 31 seasons. Hired under the watch of head coach Don James, Piro has seen his share of coaches and student-athletes grace the field at beautiful Husky Stadium.
GoHuskies.com managed to catch-up with Piro in between preseason practice sessions and talked about his role with the UW football program.
GoHuskies.com: You've been with the UW for a long time, can you tell us how you got involved with Husky athletics?
Piro: "I've been involved with UW athletics for the past 31 seasons, since I was a student assistant in the equipment room under head coach Don James. Once upon a time I wanted to be a doctor, until I realized that to do that I would have to go to school for about 20 years. At that time, business administration was very popular, but I went the political science route and the rest is history."
GoHuskies.com: What are some of the most fulfilling aspects of your job?
Piro: "I really like dealing with young people, the 18-to-22-year-old guys. I think it has really kept me younger. I'm 48-years-old but I don't feel it. I really enjoy the day-to-day interaction. I don't think there has ever been a day when I didn't want to come to work."
GoHuskies.com: Who are some of the coaches and players who immediately come to mind when you look back on your career?
Piro: "Oh, gosh, there have been so many. Warren Moon, Blair Bush, Terry Sherwood. A lot of the guys who were playing when I was in college really come to mind immediately. A lot of the offensive linemen are special to me because that was the group I hung out with most of the time. Through the years, guys like Mark Brunell, Napolean Kauffman, Lincoln Kennedy... I consider so many of those guys my friends."
GoHuskies.com: Due to the nature of your job, you must be a pretty popular guy with coaches, players and others wanting Husky gear!
Piro: Oh yes, very popular. Even though it's hard, in this position you have to learn to tell people no. It's a word that you do actually have to have in your vocabulary. You can't do everything people want.
GoHuskies.com: As mentioned earlier, you have worked with your share of coaches and players at UW. How is Coach Willingham and the current staff to work with?
Piro: "Coach Willingham and his staff are great. He really preaches personal responsibility for the players, which is really nice for an equipment person to hear. When a player loses something, it is so easy for the coach to say `just give him another one' over and over again. Our program is in a position to be able to provide our athletes with ample gear for their needs and Coach Willingham is very supportive of that. But, he does want his athletes to be personally responsible. He is a lot like Don James in that he is very organized and things are very well planned out."
GoHuskies.com: Can you talk about the UW brand and the department's relationship with Nike and how that impacts your position?
Piro: "The branding process we went through about six or seven years ago has really helped a lot. We have continuity in colors with our purples, golds, greys, our fonts and letters and those kinds of things. From our perspective, that really helps us when we order gear because it narrows down the variety and helps all our sports maintain consistency. Nike provides us with a lot of gear and it is all tied into the branding process so it is a lot easier to order."
GoHuskies.com: What are some of the advances you've seen in safety and equipment that have made a positive impact on the student-athlete?
Piro: "Air management types of shoulder pads versus the old closed cell foam pads. Helmets have changed. Instead of the old steel facemasks, there are variety of types and materials. The helmets themselves, such as the plastics they use and the kinds of paints. It is all geared toward safety. Our goal in the equipment room is for when a guy walks on a field, the last thing I want him to worry about is whether his helmet, shoes or shoulder pads fit right. We want him to focus on the game and not his equipment. That's our number one goal. My philosophy is that if I am doing my job, nobody knows I'm there."
GoHuskies.com: Describe your football gameday.
Piro: "I get to Husky Stadium about five hours before the scheduled gametime. We take care of the officials, the chaingang, the ballboys and any special needs the visiting might have. And, of course, we take care of the needs of our own team and coaches. My personal responsibility is to take care of our coaches and oversee all the other various areas, making sure the various people who are responsible are doing their jobs correctly. Once kickoff happens, we can relax a little. We pay attention to things may break during the course of the game, but generally those things are pretty simple to fix. At halftime, we set things up for the coaches and their meetings. After the games we collect all the uniforms and once the officials, coaches and visitors are done, we have some final responsibilties in terms of cleaning things up and getting ready for the next day."