Bill Tierney guides Denver lacrosse to another Final Four
DENVER (AP) This is an indication of how far Bill Tierney has taken the Denver lacrosse program: The longtime coach now occupies the coveted corner office on the fourth floor.
With a mountain view, the spot is prime real estate and not given to just anyone. Sometimes, Tierney stares out his office window to reflect on his decision in 2009, when he left a Princeton program he turned into a powerhouse for one that few even knew existed.
In no time, Tierney's turned the Pioneers into title contenders as they make their fourth trip to the Final Four this weekend. Before his arrival, Denver had never won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
''It's been a whirlwind and I'm not sure I could've predicted this,'' said Tierney, whose team faces Notre Dame on Saturday in Philadelphia. ''We've talked to our freshmen from the minute they walked in about winning a national championship. We don't skirt the issue.''
Why should he shy away from such talk? Tierney has guided teams to six NCAA crowns - all with Princeton, the place where he spent more than two decades.
This team, though, has the talent and tenacity to add to Tierney's legacy. The Pioneers (15-2) have first-rate scorers in Wesley Berg, Zach Miller and Maryland transfer Connor Cannizzaro, along with a faceoff guru in Trevor Baptiste, who rarely loses a draw - a vital component to the game.
They've demonstrated grit, too. Like last weekend in the quarterfinals at Mile High Stadium, when the Pioneers erased an early 7-1 deficit to beat Ohio State 15-13. The players were so focused they didn't even really revel in their accomplishment until Tierney told them to enjoy the moment.
''I literally had to say, `Fellas, you're going to a Final Four!''' said Tierney, who was nearly moved to tears by his team's comeback.
When the Hall of Fame coach first arrived at Denver his office was small.
A few years ago, Tierney was relocated into a more sprawling space in the corner. It's not overly cluttered with mementos and trophies, but what he does have on display comes loaded with memories.
Over there on the bookshelf is a picture of the Pioneers celebrating after a win against Loyola in 2010. It was his first team at Denver and no one gave that group much of a chance. The naysayers thought Tierney foolish for leaving Princeton for a program west of the Mississippi River without much of a track record.
All Tierney's squad did that season was win the conference title and make it to the NCAA tournament. The Pioneers have taken incremental steps ever since.
''To me, that group signifies the ability of young people to do whatever is asked of them,'' explained Tierney, whose team beat Notre Dame in overtime March 7. ''And that picture I have is a reminder to myself of what can be done if you just stick to the plan.''
Around the room, there are some keepsakes from milestones (the ball from his 350th win on April 30), a few uniforms (his son Trevor Tierney's jerseys from world championships) and pictures of his grandkids.
One of his most prized possessions? Easy, a newspaper story he had framed about his two sons when they played at Princeton. Tierney suddenly laughed, another story popping into his mind. His son, Brendan, once scored the winning goal in a 12-11 win over Virginia in the 2000 semifinals, but didn't play in the opener the next season.
That night he heard about it from his wife.
''She said, `So, you couldn't play the kid who scored the winning goal?''' Tierney said.
Although in his early 60s, Tierney has no plans of stepping away from coaching anytime soon. Denver has served as a fountain of youth for him.
Tierney delegates quite a bit now, relying on former Denver standout turned associate coach Matt Brown to run the high-powered offense and John Orsen to oversee the defense. Tierney's son, Trevor, also serves a volunteer assistant coach.
''We're here because we have great assistant coaches and talent,'' Tierney said. ''No one should forget that.''
These days, there seems to be even more kids carrying lacrosse sticks around the city. And screaming fans are constantly filling Peter Barton Stadium.
Winning does that.
''When we came here, we recognized a potential for something,'' Tierney said. ''It's worked out to a point where our kids are now considered part of one of the best programs in the country.''