Feisty’ NU Star-Turned-Coach Still Grappling With Cats’ Best (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

He stands in sweats, a black top and grey bottoms, observing the 20-odd wrestlers grappling in the large stuffy room featuring purple mats for walls. He looks ready to start wrestling himself, and soon he will.

After some close observation, the coach gets down on the expansive black mat and goes at it with one of his wrestlers, instructing technique all the while. Later he calls the wrestlers together, offers some criticism and maybe a joke, and returns them to their drills.

Such is the style of Drew Pariano, a former Northwestern wrestler-turned-assistant coach. Sometimes Pariano will spend up to seven hours a day in that black and purple wrestling room in both official and unofficial practice sessions.

As an athlete under current head coach Tim Cysewski, Pariano was a four-year starter and three-time NCAA qualifier, in 1997, 1998 and 1999 and a three-time Academic All-American.

His success as a NU student-athlete has helped Pariano relate to the current Wildcats – it is notable that the wrestlers refer to Pariano not as “coach,” but instead simply as “Drew,” just as they refer to Cysewski as “Tim.”

“Drew just does a great job of relating to the needs of each wrestler,” junior Nick Hayes said. “He’s young enough and he’s been through so many of the things that we’re going through right now – you can really work for a guy who knows exactly what you’re going through.”

Pariano left Northwestern to receive a master’s degree in communications management at John Carroll University with no plans to return to his alma mater as a coach. But after serving as a graduate assistant in order to pay for his education, Pariano “fell in love” with coaching and accepted a head coaching job at Division III Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa in 2003.

After helping to rebuild a struggling program, Pariano returned to NU to assist his former coach, Cysewski.

“Every place he went he’s done a very good job and it’s kind of come full circle with him and brought him back to Northwestern,” Cysewski said. “It’s been great. We have a good relationship – we had a good one when he was competing for me, and I think it’s even better now that he’s one of our coaches.”

As a coach, Pariano is very hands-on and demanding. A fierce competitor in college, Pariano’s competitive side never wore off after graduation. Instead, it may have grown even stronger.

Still, he is credited with keeping a light atmosphere at practice and jokes with the team often.

“I can recognize when the guys are being hard on themselves,” Pariano said. “I’m really demanding of them, but I’ll throw a joke in there now and again. Like (Wednesday), I was doing some funny stuff before practice because we had a 7:30 a.m. practice and I knew the guys were a little tired.”

One of Pariano’s favorite aspects of coaching is going head-to-head with his own wrestlers.

At 30 years old, Pariano can still compete with some of the team’s top athletes, and views the opportunity to grapple with them as a unique advantage wrestling coaches have.

“I think I can hold my own,” Pariano said. “I think it’s really important that coaches in our sport really get in the trenches with the guys and that way – I mean what better way to find out how they’re feeling that day than to actually go one-on-one with them?”

But to say he can “hold his own” might be an understatement. The wrestlers can attest that Pariano’s competitive fire has not diminished.

“He’s still unbelievable, man,” Hayes said. “I tell you what, he’s feisty – he’s really feisty.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]