William Tierney is the greatest lacrosse coach is history.
Born September 26, 1952, in Levittown, New York, a post-war baby boom town on Long Island, he was the fourth of five children. Tierney’s father drove a beer truck and his mother was a nurse. Tierney was a standout in football, wrestling and baseball at Levittown Memorial High School before attending Cortland State, a teachers college in upstate New York. His roommate played goalie for the school’s lacrosse team and convinced Tierney—who intended to play football—to join the lacrosse team despite having never played the game. After sitting on the bench for three seasons, Tierney led the Red Dragons to the 1973 USILA title, then returned to Long Island to coach high school football and lacrosse. He joined the college lacrosse ranks in 1982, accepting the head coaching position at Rochester Institute of Technology. After leading RIT to their first-ever NCAA berth in 1983, Tierney was named Division III Coach of the Year. Two years later, he became an assistant at Johns Hopkins, helping them to national titles in 1985 and 1987 while also guiding the Blue Jay’s men’s soccer team to their inaugural Division III tournament. In 1988, he accepted the head coaching job at Princeton.
In the 20 years prior to Bill Tierney’s arrival, Princeton had not won an Ivy League title, had not played in a single NCAA tournament game and did not feature an All-American. His first team went 2-13. In 1990, the Tigers won their first-ever NCAA tournament game, downing Johns Hopkins, who had beaten Princeton 20-8 during the regular season. In 1992, he led Princeton to its first NCAA title en route to being named National Coach of the Year. Under Tierney, the Tigers became a lacrosse power, winning six national championships, 14 Ivy League titles and amassing a record of 238-86. He produced 26 All-Americans, seven Ivy League Players of the Year and recruited and coached two Lt. Raymond J. Enners Award winners [the Heisman Trophy of lacrosse]. Tierney was especially good in big games, going 41-17 in NCAA tournament contests and 16-5 in one-goal games. Four of his six titles at Princeton were won in overtime. Coach Tierney’s 1997 squad may have been the best in college history, going 15-0 in the regular season before routing Maryland in the title game, 19-7. Mr. Tierney is the first to coach two sons to an NCAA lacrosse championship. Trevor was an All-American, two-time NCAA champion and National Goalie of the Year for the Tigers, while Brendan played attack/midfield for Princeton’s 2001 national champs.
In the summer of 2009, Bill Tierney moved from the comfort and security of Princeton to the University of Denver, later explaining, “there was no logic to the decision. It was impulsive. It was something I thought would be fun and exciting and would recharge the batteries.” DU began as a lacrosse club in the mid-70s and did not become a Division I program until 1999. The New Yorker wrote, “The Eastern lacrosse world reacted to the news as if Vince Lombardi had left the NFL to teach American football in Harrow.” In his first season at DU, Tierney won the ECAC Championship, was named the league’s Coach of the Year and guided the Pioneers to their first-ever NCAA bid. In 2011, DU truly pioneered a new path for programs outside the East Coast, winning their first NCAA tournament contest—in the first-ever tourney game played west of the Mississippi River—with a 13-10 victory over Villanova. Denver reached the Final Four, a feat they would accomplish four times in the coming five years. Tierney led the Pioneers to the first number-one ranking in school history in 2013. In 2015, DU became the first team from a state not touching the Atlantic Ocean ever to win the NCAA tournament. Lacrosse had moved out of its East Coast comfort zone. “I hope this gives some athletic directors the courage, instead of hiding behind cost and Title IX, saying that this is a sport that’s here to stay. I’m hoping that other people finally say, you know what? Let’s do this thing.” In just his sixth season, Tierney led Denver to its first title while becoming the first lacrosse coach to win NCAA championships with two different schools.
Bill Tierney is a three-time National Coach of the Year. His overall record is 355-118 and, since taking over at DU, is 33-4 in the Big East Conference. Lacrosse’s westward movement is riding on DU’s success and the 2015 national championship will forever be one of Western lacrosse’s marquee moments. Each year, the NCAA presents the Elite 89 Award to the student-athlete possessing the highest GPA amongst the 89 Division I member schools. Last year, DU had the third student in four years win the award. In six years, DU has produced 25 all-conference players and last season featured college lacrosse’s Freshman of the Year. Bill Tierney coached the U.S. National Team to the world championship in 1998 and was named “Person of the Year” by U.S. Lacrosse magazine in 2009. Mr. Tierney was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2002.