Lacrosse coach Bill Tierney is retiring after seven titles at Princeton, Denver.


Worse, now everything will depend on him. There is no way around it.

University of Denver coach Bill Tierney, the only men’s coach to win seven Division I national championships and the first to lead two schools — Princeton and Denver — to titles, will retire at the end of this season, he said. Athleticism in an exclusive interview. The school will officially announce the news at a later date and begin Tierney’s offseason farewell tour. He hates her.

“I know, I know,” he laughs. “It’s going to be scary.”

But it’s not an ego-driven decision or a need to celebrate for months. He joked that the last thing he wanted was for North Carolina and Duke to say nice things after rivals tried to grind his team. He’ll go public before the season starts because he wants his players — those who currently wear a Denver uniform and those who might choose to become trailblazers — to know.

“I wanted to make sure they heard it from me,” Tierney said Thursday morning before planning to gather Denver players to share the news and then invite each of the 23 target recruits to his program. “That’s the important thing. The rest, yes, it scares me.”

This is truly human nature. He is without a doubt the best coach the sport has ever seen and he should be praised as he deserves it. The accumulation of championship trophies, Final Four berths (15) and appearances in the title game (nine) are just the bottom line. Believe it or not, the road to success is even more impressive. Tierney didn’t go for the win; everywhere he went he made it out of nowhere. At his first college stop, Rochester Institute of Technology, he led the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance and was named Division III Coach of the Year.

Before coming to Princeton, the Tigers had never won an Ivy League title, let alone an NCAA Tournament game, and the Ivy League had never made a real splash on the national league stage. since the sport of lacrosse began in the 1970s when Cornell won. three titles.

A lack of scholarships and demanding academics didn’t help the build, but in 1992, Princeton won its first national title with a 10-9 overtime victory over traditional powerhouse Syracuse. The Tigers won it all again in 1994, and from 1996 to 2002 they played for or won five championships.

In 2010, Princeton was a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament. Tierney could have stayed in old Nassau forever. Instead, he took a $30,000 pay cut and moved to Denver to lead a program that left a slightly deeper lacrosse footprint than Princeton. Denver had two NCAA Tournament appearances in its history before Tierney’s arrival. Five years after being hired, the Pioneers became the first team from outside the Eastern Time Zone to win a national title.

Overall, Tierney has a career record of 429-147 with a 74.5 winning percentage.

However, the true testament to his success is not in the trophy case. It arrives in the mailbox every year, with birth announcements and Christmas cards from former players, or at alumni matches where athletes, children and spouses return each year. He sings like a proud father, recalling the accomplishments of Justin Tortolani, one of his first Princeton recruits, who not only scored a then-record 120 goals and led the Tigers to their first title, but is also a spine surgeon.

“To say that I played a small role in these guys’ lives,” Tierney said, “I’m proud of it.

Bill Tierney, 70, will retire at the end of this season. (Courtesy of Denver Athletics)

Don’t get me wrong, Tierney is no picnic to play. He’s a tough, demanding coach who plays on the wing (though his older players say he’s soft these days). Many a baseball cap paid the price for his brew.

But he is a good person. It sounds too simple and mundane, but that has to be the hardest compliment.

Full disclosure: I first met Tierney after college, when I knew next to nothing about lacrosse, but asked him to cover it anyway. Ten years later, I would marry his athletic trainer. Tierney attended our wedding and when our daughter was born on the eve of the 2001 NCAA Tournament at Princeton, he named the room after her. He also scored on it when the Tigers won the championship.

I’m biased on this one, but I also have some insight on it. Tierney is not and never has been about performance or performance. His decency is done silently out of a very simple need to do the right thing. When our kids were young, she would always encourage us to change her schedule, realizing that changing her schedule would upset ours. When Princeton basketball player Pete Carril died last year, Tierney flew to New Jersey that day to hold a service at Jadwin Gym in the man’s honor. When asked about his fondest memory, he didn’t hesitate to name the 2001 honor he shared with his sons Trevor and Brendan on the Princeton roster. When asked what he was most proud of, he turned to his wife of 46 years, Helen, who raised their four children while pursuing his lacrosse dream.

Tierney wrestled with the decision the way any healthy person wrestles with retirement. Changes in life are hard, and Tierney knows that since he coached at Great Neck High School in 1976, he’s lived through the paces of lacrosse. But everything changes. Lacrosse doesn’t play prominently on the college sports scene, but the changes are just as impactful.

“The time has come,” he said. “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve been fortunate to work where I’ve worked and with the people I’ve worked with. But with the changing world of college athletics, it seems like it’s time to make room for younger men.

He knew it would be difficult to tell his team so much that he rehearsed what he was going to say to them beforehand. “I’m still a crier,” she says. “I want to do it right.”

And he does not say that he will leave at all. Technically, Tierney is serving another year as president of the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) and has a long history with USA Lacrosse (he led the 1998 team to the world championship). As the NCAA tries to restructure its governance and ultimately surrender to athletic leadership, you’d think Tierney would be on speed dial to lend a helping hand.

He doesn’t have any concrete plans, but he’s keeping the door open to any possibilities. Everything, that is, except coaching. When Denver travels to Johns Hopkins for an exhibition game later this month, it will be the first stop on the final leg of Bill Tierney’s coaching tour.

Let the party begin, even if the celebrant hates it.

(Top image: Courtesy of Denver Athletics)

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