Bill Tierney to Retire From Denver Men’s Lacrosse after 2023 Season

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:

“It’s time.”

Top photo of Tierney hugging Boone after the 2015 national championship courtesy of Adam Hammerman

11 thoughts on “Bill Tierney to Retire From Denver Men’s Lacrosse after 2023 Season”

  1. He’s the greatest coach in his sport, and has made a huge impact on our school.

    There cannot be enough accolades for the man.

    Bravo, Coach T!

  2. Thanks to Coach Tierney for bringing greatness to DU. The 2015 national championship was an amazing moment for DU fans. A bit of hyperbole to call him the greatest coach of any sport at any level. Tierney would cringe at that, I’m sure. But he is a legend in his sport, and we’re lucky that he came west to become a DU legend. The program has levelled out a bit, but what a foundation he established. Many thanks!!!

  3. Would like your perspective on why Pios are still “behind the curve nationally” in adjusting to clock shot – its been 6 years! As always, thanks for your reporting

    1. While Nick can speak for himself, I believe he likely meant that Matt Brown’s intricate, motion-centric, yet deliberate offense was developed primarily in the pre-shot clock era to take advantage of DU’s high-skill attacking players. Their ability to think, pass from the perimeter in, initiate alley and split dodges and handle the ball in traffic in multiple directions would confuse defensive slide assignments. That led to backdoor layups and other high percentage shots. For many years in DU’s heyday from about 2012-2017, the offense worked really well and was the envy of college lax…

      But in the shot clock era in recent years, DU’s subsequent evolutions from Brown’s base offensive strategy have not worked as well. This could also be affected by team’s defences adjusting to DU, as well as DU’s recruiting (which has slipped a bit since that golden era).

      The end result is that DU’s offense has struggled in a more speeded-up shot-clock lax world. DU rarely gets those demoralizing backdoor layups today, and the “offensive genius” label Brown once wore back in the day is no longer as accurate as it once was…

      1. Thx for perspective of changing offense – what are your thoughts on “recruiting slippage” – it appears G’town’s program has excelled in recruiting grad students for ‘23 season – BE conference will be a slog. Until I hear otherwise, I’ll believe its because of our academics!!! No grads from Yale this season!!

    2. DU’s recruiting has “fallen off” in large measure because the three “Cs” that DU used to ‘own” – California, Canada and Colorado, have been since discovered by other schools, due to DU’s success.

      DU is also in a tough spot in recruiting the best players from the eastern lax hotbeds because most athletes want to be within a day’s drive of home so family and friends can watch them play, and because many of the lax schools in the East have a better academic reputations than DU does.

      The next frontier in recruiting is finding and developing players from non-hotbed, non-three “C” places, something that DU is already trying to do in recent years.

      1. This has been an apparent gaping hole in DU’s ability to compete for the last 6 years. The difference in skill sets from the 2015 team to last year is significant, if not enormous. The experiment of the “three C’s” is over. Real focus on recruiting is imperative. Let’s Hail Tierney but, let’s understand and prepare for the competition which is only getting more fierce in the Big East and throughout D-1. Look only to the success of Utah, which is fledgling by comparison — they’ve taken a little and have gotten enormous returns. DU has filled it’s tent with some very good players (about 18) but they carry nearly 60. That says 1 out of 3 recruits can play (33.3%), the others aren’t good enough. This number needs to be closer to (50%). And, we need more top end recruits who are 1%ers. guys who score goals and assists at a enormous rate. Jack Hannah was one – but he’s the only one. We need about 3 or 4 per year to be in contention.

        A comment about recruiting from Easter Hotbeds. The explanation is true, however, look at Ohio State and Notre Dame, both have had terrific recruiting from all points on the map. DU needs to quit sitting on their hands and get out there.

        Hail to Tierney and let’s get recruiting!

  4. Congratulations to Coach Tierney on an incredible career! What a resume he has. Amazing. I hope this DU team has another magical run in them before he rides off into the sunset.

    I had zero interest in lacrosse before he showed up here in Denver. Since then, I’ve grown to love it. I am sure he has helped grow the sport out here and in the greater Rocky Mountain region by leaps and bounds. He’s a true Pioneer and ambassador for the sport.

    On another note, congrats to Sean Behrens and the rest of Team USA for winning bronze at the World Juniors. It was a wild and, as usual, highly entertaining tournament with plenty of drama.

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