Mazza Does it All For Fresno State Athletics
June 22, 2005
The Fresno State Athletics Department is comprised of over 100 employees. There are Gregs, Erics and Steves. There's a Sharif, two Sarahs, an Andy and two Randys. A Tong, a Fong, a Kerry, a Terry and a Mary.
But there's just one Gene.
Gene Mazza, that is. Though most Bulldog fans aren't aware of the name, Mazza, one of Fresno State's events and facilities coordinators, may very well be the most valuable person in the entire athletics department.
On paper, Mazza's job responsibilities are the oversight of the tennis, equestrian, men's basketball and women's soccer events and their facilities, to work with the director of events and director of facilities, to supervise any facility that is being used by an outside entity and to assist in the operation of any postseason or special events.
But he does more than that. Much, much more. In fact, it's a safe bet that his first name is uttered more on an everyday basis than anyone else's in the entire department. Such is life when you've showed the ability to do virtually anything and everything. That trait has led to the formation of a popular two-word phrase that defines Mazza's importance to the department and all its employees - "Get Gene!"
The men's tennis coach would like a television in his office. That requires splicing cable and running it through walls and over hallways.
The scoreboard goes out in the middle of a men's basketball game at the Save Mart Center. It needs to be fixed immediately. What does former head coach Ray Lopes say?
The tennis courts need resurfacing. The equestrian facility needs to be set up for the upcoming event. Someone needs to assist in the coordination of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. And why in the world isn't the tarp on the baseball field?!
"Most people, when they have a question, the first person they'll ask for is me," Mazza said. "It can be from, `There's smoke coming from my light,' to, `My car won't start.' Some are simple, and those are easy to fix. But some aren't. But the first thing you tend to hear is my name."
In short, Mazza, a Valley native who graduated from Central High School, does everything but balance the budget, and what he does, he does well. Very, very well. Hence the constant beckoning of Get Gene! And it's a phrase that gets turned more as each week passes.
"When I started here, [my job] went anywhere from dragging the arena at equestrian to running 500 feet of telephone line so we could have live match updates [on gobulldogs.com] during a tennis regional," said Mazza.
Now that he's firmly entrenched himself in the athletics department, he sees his job responsibilities a bit differently - "Keep the coaches happy. Keep the administrators happy," he says.
That never appears to be a problem for Mazza, who melds a high degree of competency in just about anything he does with an unflinchingly positive attitude that never fades, no matter the pressure he is under.
As a result, it's likely no accident that Mazza is typically one of the first individuals any new Fresno State employee meets upon arriving. Undoubtedly, that new employee will be met by a grinning and cheery Mazza. And soon, as everyone else has learned, it's a smile that never goes away, no matter what he's doing.
"Gene is a true Bulldog. Everything he does, he does with a smile, at all hours of the day," said Mike Rupcich, who spent 26 years as an assistant baseball coach at Fresno State before becoming the department's director of events in 2003. "The multiple hours he puts in always reflect upon the quality of the facility and the organization of the particular event."
How Mazza came to work at Fresno State is no surprise. Hearing that the men's tennis team needed a racquet restringer in the late 1990's, he decided to help out. It was a pleasure for him, with tennis being a sport he played in high school ("I was too small for football," Mazza said) and one he truly enjoyed.
From there, Rob Peterson, then the Director of Facilities-East at Fresno State, needed help at softball games and tabbed Mazza, who quickly became known as an individual whose normal weekend day went something like this: Arrive at the Wathen Tennis Center early in the morning to set up for a tennis match that day, run over to Bulldog Diamond to drag the infield for that afternoon's softball game, scamper back to tennis to introduce the players in his energetic style over the P.A. system, hurry back to softball to ensure everything is running smoothly and maybe drag the infield in between games, grab a Mountain Dew and head back to tennis to wrap up things at the Wathen Center and remind fans over the P.A. system when the next home match is, talk about the match briefly with the tennis coaches and players (win or lose), shuttle back to Bulldog Diamond to clean up the facility and field after the game ends.
And despite a schedule like this, which can jerk him from facility to facility for up to as many as 12 hours on a single day, one thing is guaranteed - Mazza will be smiling and ready to strike up a pleasant conversation with anyone.
"My attitude is, a job is a job, I can either be upset about it or happy about it. But the job is going to be there. So I might as well be happy about it. Hey, I'm getting paid for it. I'm easily amused, so that helps. And I enjoy working around people."
And Fresno State's student-athletes enjoy dealing with Mazza just as much as the departmental personnel. After games, he is as likely to swap high-fives with players as he is with the coaching staff.
"Gene is always making everyone around him feel as good about life as he does," said men's tennis player Sergiu Modoc. "He is one of the few people I know that only has good things to say to you. Nobody works harder, and yet he is one of the nicest guys I know, even when he is doing tedious tasks. It is a pleasure to be involved with him because he always puts a smile on my face and is uplifting to be around."
That a large majority of his work goes unnoticed is of no concern to Mazza. His appreciation, he says, comes from being the first individual everyone thinks of whenever they need help with anything. That helps fuel his work ethic and can-do spirit that has made him one of the department's most vital support staff members.
"Gene's work mostly goes under the radar, and that is the way you can tell he is doing a great job," Kriebs said. "If it works, I'm sure he fixed it. If it looks new, he painted it. If it's clean, he washed it.
"He is more like the backbone of Fresno State Athletics - he's sometimes taken for granted but always there for support."
One person with whom Mazza talks with daily, men's tennis coach Jay Udwadia, takes it one step further.
"Gene is a machine. An absolute machine," said Udwadia. "He's the hardest working guy we have around here. His love of Fresno State Athletics makes me want to do my job that much better, and it pushes our team to be the best they can be. Gene is an indispensable member of the department."
Terry Logan, Fresno State's Director of Facilities who works closely with Mazza on a daily basis, perhaps puts it best.
"Gene Mazza," Logan says, "could nail Jell-O to a wall."
Mazza's work ethic and disposition are just part of the overall package. Two of his greater assets are an attention to detail that is, to put it mildly, keen, and a quest to make Fresno State's facilities the best they can possibly be.
One memorable example came during the 1999 NCAA Men's Tennis Regional at the Wathen Tennis Center. Looking for a way to spruce up a place that was hosting its first postseason event since being dedicated in February 1998, Mazza took a cue from the Bulldog Stadium end zones and painted the facility's grassy berms with a red and white checkerboard pattern. The players roared their approval and then went on to upset USC in the second round before the largest crowd in Wathen Center history.
"I had no idea it was going to be so bright. And it was bright," Mazza said of the painted berms. "But the players loved it. The USC coach thought we should add some gold (for USC's colors). That was classic, because I had no idea it was going to be that bright."
It was an extra-special touch that was remembered not only by Fresno State's players and fans, but also USC's legendary men's tennis coach Dick Leach. The following year when his team returned to the Wathen Tennis Center for the 2000 NCAA Men's Tennis Regional, Leach was quick to point out about Mazza, "That guy is great. We need him working for us."
Mazza occasionally accompanies the football team on road trips. While many would view a football away game as a mini-vacation - being on the road offers a respite from planning an event or readying a facility for a game - Mazza looks at it the opposite way. When he traveled with the Bulldog football team to the Oklahoma game in 2003, he was as happy as a sailor on shore leave, taking a tour of as many of the school's facilities as possible. During the team's walk-through the day before the game, Mazza passed on watching practice, opting instead to scour all of Memorial Stadium, pen and notebook in hand, jotting down notes on how to improve Bulldog Stadium or any other facility at Fresno State.
"I like to see how everything looks. See what the feeling you get is," Mazza said. "My eyes are always moving, and I'm always moving around. That's what I do with our stadiums. Even though it might be something small, it's something that a fan might notice. And that might stick in their mind, and they might come back.
One of the "little things" Mazza created that did receive fanfare was visible during the 2005 softball season at Bulldog Diamond. In keeping with Fresno State's nickname, he changed the outfield distance markers from simple placards to dog bones.
This, unlike much of the work he is quietly happy to do, did not go unnoticed.
"If I get a thank you, that goes a long way," Mazza said. "At the NCAA Softball Regionals [in May], Steve Weakland (Fresno State's Assistant A.D. for Communications) came up and mentioned the bones for the outfield markers. That was something I did during last summer. I thought that would be a nice theme since we're the Bulldogs and it would bring a little character to the park. The team liked them. Just that little compliment right there was pretty cool. People notice."
Yes, Gene. People do notice. We noticed that the singles sticks holding up the nets at the Wathen Tennis Center read, "2001 WAC Tournament," when the facility hosted the league championships four years ago, though we don't know that you worked all night preparing them. We noticed that you painted the tired-looking trash receptacles at Bulldog Stadium to match the school colors and then placed a large Fresno State logo on each, making them blend nicely into the facility rather than sticking out like a black eye. And we notice that facilities look perfect on game day, right down to the refrigerator in the press box being stocked with our favorite beverages.
We didn't have to ask. It was just done. With a smile.