According to Inside Lacrosse’s Terry Foy, The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil, and confirmed by the program, Denver Men’s Lacrosse head coach Bill Tierney is retiring from coaching at the conclusion of the Pioneers’ 2023 season. The greatest coach of any sport at any level is officially calling it quits after spending the last 14 years leading the Pios.
Tierney enters his final season with a 429-147 record (157-54 at DU), 30 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven national titles, and the distinction of being the only coach to win national titles with two different programs. His status as the greatest coach in the history of lacrosse – probably sport in general – is assured and the University of Denver was so fortunate that they were the beneficiary of his final decade and a half of coaching.
“I wanted to make sure they heard it from me in person,’’ Tierney told The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil Thursday morning before he planned to gather the Denver players to share the news and then call each of the 23 recruits targeted for his program. “That’s all that matters.”
Before being persuaded to take the job – and the significant pay cut that came with it – with the Pioneers and help expand the sport’s primarily northeastern footprint to the west by then DU athletic director Peg Bradley-Doppes, Tierney led the Princeton Tigers to the pinnacle of men’s lacrosse. His teams were perennial contenders and he won an incredible six national titles in New Jersey.
Before he took the Princeton job, the Tigers had never even won an Ivy League title, let alone a national title. When he decided to move west and come to the Mile High City, before he helped build Denver into the Lacrosse Capital of the West, the Pioneers were in a similar position as the Tigers were prior to his arrival. They had made the NCAA Tournament just twice before 2009. But the very second his arrival in Denver was announced, the balance of power in the sport shifted west, before ‘Coach T’s’ Pioneers even suited up for their first game.
By now, as a reader of this blog, you know what came next – yearly conference titles, annual trips to the NCAA Tournament, a slew of Final Fours, and, of course, the first National Championship won by a team west of the Mississippi River in 2015.
Coach T’s decision to come to Denver, though, not only was huge for the sport, but it was massive for the University of Denver at large. What Bradley-Doppes understood as the leader of the athletic department, something that all the most effective athletic directors and university leaders understand is that athletics is the university’s ‘front porch’ and for DU in 2009, investing in lacrosse was a no-brainer. Tierney’s mere arrival completely changed the perception that DU was just a ‘hockey school.’ All of a sudden, athletics, not just hockey, mattered at University and Evans and for an athletic department that had been back at the full Division I level for barely a decade. Tierney’s arrival signaled how seriously the school planned to take it. Of course, the sold-out crowds at Barton Stadium have become of the sport’s best game day experiences.
More broadly, with DU’s ascendancy in lacrosse, general DU student applications from the critical East Coast market, especially those price elastic students from New England prep schools, rose markedly. This is helping to assure DU’s financial security and helping to subsidize financial aid for more students who needed it. Tierney’s presence has elevated DU’s national profile, and with it, everybody with a DU degree has seen it grow a little bit in value because he chose us…
Regionally speaking, there is now a D-I program at the University of Utah that Tierney helped to advise, and without Tierney’s decision to come West, that program doesn’t happen. And in Colorado, high school lacrosse has not only boomed, Tierney’s camps and work with local high school and youth coaches is producing high level players for many programs (not just DU), and has produced a much bigger profile for the sport in the state. And his support of local programs for underprivileged kids and those with special needs is also legendary.
“They say, ‘When you know, you know,’ and as my career draws to a close, I’m at peace with this decision,” Tierney said via DU’s press release.
With this announcement, attention now turns to not only the upcoming season, which has the Pioneers sitting at #13 in the preseason USA Lacrosse Magazine poll, but the longer-term future of the program. With the advent of the shot clock after the Pioneers’ 2015 national title, DU’s offense has fallen behind the curve nationally, but even so, expect long-time offensive coordinator Matt Brown, who has been a coach with his alma mater since 2006, to have pole position to succeed Tierney.
“While I know a lot of the focus will be on this being my last season, I’m really excited to get the whistle back around my neck next week and start the preseason with this great group of student-athletes,” Tierney said. “The opportunity to coach with Brownie (associate head coach Matt Brown) my entire Denver tenure has been a blessing. Matt and his family are like family to us, and I’m thankful to have coached in Denver alongside my son Trevor (Tierney), son-in-law Dylan Sheridan, John Orsen, John Gallant, Ryan LaPlante, Jeremy Noble, Erik Adamson and for my final season, Matt Neufeldt. They have all played an important role in making this program what it is today.”
Though lacrosse’s footprint is smaller than the sports of his counterparts on the college coaching Mount Rushmore, Bill Tierney will no doubt walk with John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, and Jerry York as the giants of their sports. But just like all of them, Coach T’s time at the mountaintop is coming to an end, and as he told O’Neil:
Top photo of Tierney hugging Boone after the 2015 national championship courtesy of Adam Hammerman