Tierney Revamps DU Lax In Year One

(above) You won't find any DU lacrosse players with long hair or playoff beards while Coach Tierney is at the helm
"It's not going to change a kid as a player if his hair is a little longer, but when you can get a group to buy into that mentality, it's soothing for them," Tierney said. "I think kids want direction, want discipline, but they'll never ask you for it."
- Bill Tierney
From: Greenwich Time.com
by Pat Graham

The Hall of Fame lacrosse coach arrived on Denver's campus with the responsibility of making the Pioneers relevant, of making the sport even more reputable and renown out West.

No easy project, no easy venture.

Bill Tierney left the security of Princeton for this assignment, saying farewell to a place where he was revered after turning the Tigers into a national power, winning six NCAA championships and 14 Ivy League titles.

To come to Denver last summer raised some eyebrows. This was a school that had never won an NCAA tournament game in lacrosse and only started fielding a Division I program about a decade ago.

And this was a part of the country where the sport was hardly the religion it was back East, with just Denver and Air Force boasting men's Division I programs west of the Mississippi.

To build a successful legacy out here would take patience, energy and time.

Yet in Year One, Tierney led Denver to a No. 9 national ranking, a 12-4 record, an Eastern College Athletic Conference title and a spot in the NCAA tournament, where they face Stony Brook on Saturday.

The success has come so swiftly Tierney feels the need to tap the brakes on runaway expectations.

"Look, there's a lot of work to be done yet," said the 58-year-old Tierney, who was named the conference's coach of the year. "I don't want people thinking that this is going to automatically produce a national champion and we're going to walk off into the sunset."

The Mile High City has a healthy history of lacrosse, with the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse and the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League frequently playing to big crowds. There's also a thriving youth program in place.

Still, a chance to legitimize lacrosse out West even more was the impetus for Tierney leaving Princeton after 22 seasons.

Judging by his upcoming recruiting class, he's already making inroads. Tierney's bringing in kids from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, players passing on traditional powers such as Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Virginia and Princeton to follow Tierney's migration.

"His decision to go to Denver is an important milestone in the ongoing evolution of college lacrosse," said Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body. "People know how successful of a coach he is."

As for his role in the team's turnaround, Tierney — in typical fashion — downplayed it.

"There was so much hype, over-hype, overemphasis, overstatement as to what I could do," Tierney said. "The players are the ones that had to put up with it. ... All we did was come in and convince them that they could be as good as they are."

Not that it took much convincing. Given his track record, Tierney's tactics were an easy sell.

He was an icon at Princeton, leading the Tigers to 10 NCAA Final Fours in compiling a 238-86 record.

Tierney never really intended to depart Princeton. But when the Pioneers parted ways with Jamie Munro last season, the school contacted Tierney just to see if he knew anyone who might be interested.

By the way, would he be interested?

With his son, Trevor, already in Denver, and he and his wife, Helen, hoping to eventually retire in the Rocky Mountains anyway, Tierney decided to make the leap.

His departure for Denver and the West had lacrosse circles buzzing. It was an unprecedented decision.

Sometimes, though, a change of scenery is necessary.

"He had been at one place for so long, and been so successful, there was a part of him that wanted to try something new," said Trevor Tierney, who serves as his father's defensive coordinator. "It's been great for him."

Bill Tierney's first order of business was reuniting a fractured team.

Last season, the Pioneers had off-the-field issues, dismissing three players for violating team rules during a 7-8 campaign.

"There was just an inconsistency for discipline," team captain and conference defensive player of the year Dillon Roy said.

That's been remedied under Tierney, who quickly set ground rules.

Listen to him, Tierney implored, and they would be better for it.

Better students for sure. Better citizens, too.

That's all he could promise.

He made his players sit in the first two rows at class, pick up trash they saw on the ground, wear coats and ties on road trips. He also had them keep their hair short, shave every day and tidy up the locker room.

Tierney's rationale was simple: Little things off the field may spill over onto it.

"It's not going to change a kid as a player if his hair is a little longer, but when you can get a group to buy into that mentality, it's soothing for them," Tierney said. "I think kids want direction, want discipline, but they'll never ask you for it."

For a coach who's all about order, Tierney's desk is completely disheveled. There are recruiting tapes stacked haphazardly, assorted paperwork spilling out of folders and scouting reports scattered about. Yet he knows where everything lies under those piles.

Organized mayhem, he joked.

He also has Post-It notes stuck everywhere, little reminders of friends and colleagues who've called to congratulate him.

These days, those Post-It notes are piling up fast.

Denver's surge under Tierney has drawn vast amounts of exposure. Newspapers, magazines and television crews have shown up to chronicle the team, wanting to know how, in such a short time, the Pioneers have morphed into a squad that's won nine straight, including a recent victory over a ranked Loyola squad to wrap up the league title.

Easy, Roy insists — Tierney.

"When I walk around town and people see my DU sweat shirt, people that know nothing about lacrosse, know about this coaching change," Roy said. "He's a big name and having that big name in the West is going to inspire kids to play."

Precisely why he's now here.


puck swami said...

Awesome stuff. He's training the players for a corporate life after lacrosse and to be responsible young men.

du78 said...

Nice getting that article in the Greenwich, CT newspaper, one of the most affluent areas in the country and a lacrosse hotbed in southwest CT. More than one CEO probably read that in his limo on the way to work in Manhattan. Some good stuff.