DENVER — A 2002 U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Famer, two-time National Coach of the Year, seven National Championships, a 1998 World Championship with Team USA and many, many other awards all fall inside head coach Bill Tierney's bio, accomplishments most coaches would just hope for one of in their careers. Tierney added one more milestone to the collection when he picked up career win number 400 on Saturday in a victory over Georgetown in the Pioneers' BIG EAST opener.
Tierney joins long-time friend and competitor John Danowski as the two Division I coaches to reach 400 wins. The Denver bench boss reached the milestone in 532 career games, 62 games faster than Danowski.
The path to 400 wins had a lot of stops along the way, but all have had one common denominator -winning. In his college days, Tierney led Cortland State to a USILA college division championship in his 1973 senior campaign before beginning his head coaching career at Great Neck South High on Long Island in 1976. From there, Tierney moved to Levittown High in 1980 before making his first college stop at RIT. Tierney led that program to its first two NCAA Tournament appearances in just three seasons at the helm. The legendary head coach's first Division I coaching job took him to Baltimore where he served as an assistant at Johns Hopkins for three seasons, helping the Jays to national titles in 1985 and 1987, while also serving as the head coach for the Blue Jays men's soccer team, guiding that team to the program's first NCAA bid in 11 years.
And then there was Princeton...
The Tigers hadn't won a league championship, didn't make an NCAA Tournament appearance and hadn't produced a First Team All-American in the 20 years prior to Tierney's arrival at Princeton for the 1988 spring season.
"A kick in the rear," as he put it, was what a program that already had a lot of history needed to get back to the top. If that's really all it needed, Tierney should have become a professional kick-boxer because the banners hanging behind the far goal from the visitor's bench (that he occupied for the first time on Tuesday at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium), represent 22 years, six National Championships, 26 First Team All-Americans, 20 Scholar All-Americans and two National Players of the Year, just to name a few honors.
Following all the success with the Tigers, Tierney shocked the lacrosse world in the summer of 2009 when he left the Princeton campus to join a Denver program that had made just two trips to the NCAA Tournament in its Division I history. In now his 10th season in Crimson and Gold, Tierney's latest "kick in the rear" has taken Denver to nine NCAA Tournaments, its first five Championship Weekends and made Denver the first program west of Chapel Hill, N.C., to lift the National Championship trophy (2015).
In addition to now 400 wins, Tierney's combined career has seen the son of a beer truck driver and a nurse amass seven national titles, nine NCAA Final appearances, 15 Championship Weekend appearances, 23 National Quarterfinal appearances and 29 NCAA Tournament appearances. At Denver, Tierney has produced the Pioneers' first nine First Team All-Americans, nine Second Team All-Americans, five Third Team All-Americans and 18 Honorable Mention selections.
Where did the desire, passion, love and knowledge of coaching come from?
He credits his coaching in life to his high school football coaches Nick Balitsos and Phil Wolf and credits more life lessons learned along the way from Cortland freshman coach Stan Kowalski and varsity coaches Jack Emmer and Chuck Winters.
When it comes to lacrosse knowledge for the now 35th-year head coach, Tierney reflects on being the first assistant at Johns Hopkins as the only "non-Hopkins guy" on the staff. The team's "ball-boy" as he often jokingly refers to himself, was part of two National Championships in three years while on the Hopkins staff.
"It took those three years at Hopkins for me to develop into understanding the game," Tierney told ESPN Analyst Paul Carcaterra in the first episode of his new podcast Overtime earlier this season. "I thought I knew it all when I got there, and then quickly realized I didn't know anything. I'm very thankful to Zim (Hopkins head coach Don Zimmerman) for hiring me, and the man I learned the most lacrosse from, more than everyone else combined, was Freddy Smith (defensive coordinator at the time)."
Countless coaches will have similar stories to tell about Coach Tierney for years to come, but the two men by his side the longest in his career are his two offensive coordinators. David Metzbower spent 20 seasons by Tierney's side at Princeton before his current offensive coordinator role at North Carolina. However, the Metzbower name is back by Tierney's side once again as David's daughter Jordan is in her second year as a student manager on the Denver staff.
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It took Tierney all of five minutes after talking to current associate head coach Matt Brown to realize that he wanted him on his staff when he came to Denver, and the two have now built the program into a national contender year in and year out.
Tierney not only brought a Championship out west, but he's grown the game far from its epicenter as well. From the booming youth and high school growth of the sport just in the state of Colorado, to his coaching tree starting new programs across the country, to his ability to recruit in California, his impact on the sport will be felt for generations to come.
To showcase the impact that Tierney has had on the game so far, U.S. Lacrosse named the national team's training field in Sparks, Md., after the legendary head coach on June 1, 2015. Denver and Princeton played a fall exhibition to dedicate the facility in 2016, the only meeting between the two programs prior to the March 26, 2019, encounter.
In his personal life, Tierney and his wife Helen are proud parents of four wonderful children and are grandparents to three children. Trevor was a First Team All-American at Princeton and the National Goalie of the Year before graduating in 2001. Trevor shares three National Championships with his dad, two as a player and one as a volunteer assistant with the 2015 Pioneers. Brendan, who graduated in 2002 from Princeton, scored the game-winning goal in the Tigers' 12-11 2000 NCAA Semifinal victory over Virginia before winning the national title with his brother and his dad in 2001. Courtney played basketball at Franklin and Marshall and currently serves as the head girls' basketball coach at Pingry School in Central New Jersey. Brianne, who played lacrosse at Colgate, became the first women's lacrosse head coach at Kent State as the Golden Flashes began play this season.
All of this though, and the fiery man fans see on the sidelines and that players see at practice said in a press conference following the 2015 National Championship at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia:
"When I go to my grave, I don't want them putting on my headstone how many national championships I had. I want them to put on my headstone that my players loved me."
They do Coach. They do.