New York Times Profiles DU Lacrosse Program

(above) This article appeared on Page 1 of the NY Edition of the NY Times Sports Section today (Sunday)

From: New York Times
by Pete Thamel

Every Friday, the University of Denver lacrosse team gathers in a campus studio for a session of vinyasa yoga. To stay healthy and limber, the players twist their bodies into a series of poses like pigeon, downward dog and eagle.

Tierney, 58, who has a son in the Denver area, said his new job had re-energized him.

The Pioneers’ players are not the only ones exploring new positions. Bill Tierney, 58, made one of the most stunning and potentially influential moves in college lacrosse last summer by leaving Princeton after 22 years to coach at Denver.

Tierney, who won 6 national titles and 14 Ivy League championships at Princeton, left for a job with what he said was a $30,000 cut in salary. He has not yet joined the team in its yoga sessions, but he is embracing a life and coaching style that is a bit more flexible.

“People forget that coaches are like regular people,” said Tierney’s son Trevor, the team’s defensive assistant and de facto yoga instructor. “If you’ve been at a job for more than 20 years and been extremely successful, there may be a part of you that wants to try something new.”

While Tierney has found himself open to new-age tweaks like his son’s yoga and visualization techniques, the Pioneers have won seven straight games by subscribing to his age-old Princeton formula of suffocating defense and judicious offense. No. 16 Denver (10-4) hosts No. 6 Loyola of Maryland (9-2) at Invesco Field on Sunday, with the winner earning an N.C.A.A. tournament bid.

Tierney professes eternal love for his time at Princeton but said he had been re-energized by the novelty of offering scholarships (Princeton could not), a more flexible admissions office and the opportunity to help the game grow away from its traditional Eastern pockets. Under Tierney, the Tigers became one of the four dominant lacrosse programs in the country. Princeton, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Virginia have combined to win the last 17 national championships.

With Tierney overhauling a team that went 7-8 last season, Denver appears to have potential as boundless as the mountainous horizon.

“Can we win a national championship out here? Yes, we can,” Tierney said. “The excitement and newness of what we’re trying to do seems to be attracting kids.”

Denver has such a bustling lacrosse scene that Inside Lacrosse named it the No. 1 lacrosse town in the country. There are robust and organized youth programs around the state, more than 60 high school programs, and popular indoor and outdoor professional teams.

“It gave us a sense of legitimacy,” Bryan Perry, the coach at Cherry Creek High School for eight seasons, said of Tierney’s arrival. “Not to say there wasn’t before, but when you get a Hall of Fame guy, the John Wooden of lacrosse, you raise your eyebrows and say we’re at a different level now.”

Tierney’s presence will probably not start a Western collegiate lacrosse boom. Denver and Air Force are the only two Division I men’s programs west of the Mississippi. Universities interested in adding men’s lacrosse have struggled because its large roster numbers hurt the gender equity mandated by the federal law known as Title IX.

“No one is adding Division I lacrosse when they’re not equitable to begin with,” Virginia Coach Dom Starsia said.

But Tierney can give the game a distinct imprint in a Western hub, which Starsia compared to “stepping on the moon and sticking the flagpole on the ground.”

Tierney’s trip began almost by accident. He had been conferring with Denver’s athletic director, Peg Bradley-Doppes, about other candidates last summer, when she said to him, “What would it take to get you out here?”

She knew that Trevor Tierney lived in the area and played professionally, and she pitched the interview as a free two-day visit. Then Bill Tierney saw the lacrosse stadium, heard the vision of the university to broaden its name recognition and student base, and felt the passion for the game in the area.

“I tried to be cynical,” he said. “I tried to figure out that I wasn’t going to like the facility, the kids and what the school was all about. Every time I turned another corner, it was just another great person.”

Bradley-Doppes said she stood on the porch outside her office overlooking the lacrosse stadium when she gave Tierney the hard sell. With the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, she recalled saying to him, “Wouldn’t it be fun?”

She said she thought Tierney took the job because “it wasn’t going to be easy, that he was building something on a national level that maybe the faint of heart would have backed away from.”

Last year’s team struggled with off-the-field problems, with three players being dismissed for violating team rules. Tierney set up some baseline discipline standards that he said the team had followed well. Bradley-Doppes said she had been impressed with small changes like the players wearing jackets and ties on the road and Tierney’s banning flip-flops and hats at team breakfast.

The coaching staff inherited a team with 8 or 9 midfielders and 17 long-stick players. Tierney said a team usually had 17 midfielders and 8 or 9 long sticks.

Dillon Roy and Andrew Lay, players on the team from Denver, said Tierney’s presence had helped instill discipline on the field, too, and they lauded his teaching methods as simple, concise and effective.

Trevor Tierney said lacrosse in Denver was “less pretentious” than back East, translating to players being willing to work harder.

After a blowout loss at Syracuse and an overtime loss at Jacksonville to open the season, Tierney did not change much.

“He’s more relaxed than it seems like he was at Princeton,” said Dave Metzbower, an assistant under Tierney at Princeton. “He definitely seems like he’s enjoying it. Even when he lost his first couple games early in the season, he didn’t seem to be uptight.”

Tierney began the year talking about being more wide open on offense, but the tendencies he showed at Princeton have crept back. Denver is scoring less, winning one-goal games and making a run at the postseason. It all sounds familiar.

But along the way, there have been new offensive sets brought in by the assistant Matt Brown and defensive philosophies from Trevor Tierney.

“I became overly protective of the system,” Bill Tierney said, saying the words “the system” as if they were soaked in vinegar. “What it meant to play Princeton lacrosse. When I came out here, it was good for me.”

And although he has not changed so much that he will be sweating on a yoga mat soon, Tierney has shown a nod to the local athletic culture.

“My wife and I did buy bikes,” he said with a laugh.

At 58, a long way from Princeton, Tierney is off to a smooth start on his new ride at Denver.


Anonymous said...

Funny reference in article. It said that Bradley-Doppes was just talking to Tierney about "other candidates" and then dropped the question on him.

Sounds a lot like Gwoz and OSU.

puck swami said...

Great win for the Pios today over #6 Loyola to win the ECAC title and the NCAA auto-bid.

G. Ames said...

Finally, after 6 weeks of tenting, it was time for the Carolina Game. Even though we were on spring break, we got up early, and the day began. My tent-mates and I put on some Duke gear and went over to Cameron Indoor Stadium for College Gameday Live. While there, we were joined by tons of other students, the band, the mascot, and the cheerleaders. After some cheerful prodding by Digger Phelps, we woke up a little, just in time to do a few live shots for SportsCenter. Once we had cheered and screamed for over two hours for the entire Gameday Crew (and booed when Hubert Davis foolishly picked UNC over Duke for the game,) my hallmates and I quickly grabbed lunch and then took a nap for a few hours or did any remaining work we had before spring break.