DU thinks big when it comes to lacrosse | VailDaily.com

DU thinks big when it comes to lacrosse

Terry Frei
The Denver Post

DENVER, Colorado –University of Denver vice chancellor Peg Bradley-Doppes led the way onto the deck outside her fourth-floor office in the Ritchie Center. She showed off her view of the Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, the 2,000-seat gem with fence banners for financial firms that advertise the sport’s traditional connection to affluence.

Behind it, construction continued on a soccer stadium that will include a new weight room for the athletic department. The sounds of men and heavy equipment at work were audible.

There was something else in the air, too.

A buzz.

As DU upgrades what already were considered showcase facilities, the hiring of lacrosse coach Bill Tierney, whose Princeton teams won six NCAA championships, sent shock waves through the sport’s passionate and expanding following.

“What we’re trying to do is reach out and connect with the community that wants to build lacrosse,” Bradley-Doppes said. “If we don’t enhance the university mission and enhance the spreading of the mission, then we’re not doing our job. A good lacrosse program can do both of those, and I think at a very high level.”

Tierney’s enthusiasm crackled through the phone line Tuesday.

“There’s something in coaching that allows you to develop a balance between the X’s and O’s and the young men you’re dealing with, and everybody in between – the families, the administrators, the professors,” said Tierney, 57.

“I think I have a pretty good balance on all of that. I’m pretty intense. . . . I know how to be fair with people. I know how to be tough on them and I know how to put my arm around them when I need that. As I said to the (DU players) in the note I wrote, it’s going to be communication and consistency and I think those are two pretty good traits to have.”

Tierney attended Long Island’s Levittown Memorial High School. He headed to Cortland State (N.Y.) determined to continue his football-playing career and someday succeed the longtime Levittown Memorial football coach.

“That was pretty brazen of me,” he said with a laugh.

When he was a Cortland sophomore, the football coach told Tierney he was too small. His football career was over.

“I had started playing some lacrosse my freshman year because one of my best friends was a lacrosse goalie who needed someone to shoot on him, and I was a candidate,” he said. “I fell in love with lacrosse.”

After graduation, Tierney indeed ended up the head coach in lacrosse and football at Levittown Memorial. One of his best friends, the lacrosse coach at Rochester Institute of Technology, took the job at Ithaca College.

“I guess (RIT) couldn’t get any good college guys to apply, so they took a high school guy – me,” Tierney said.

He was at RIT for three years, then became an assistant at Johns Hopkins. He also had to coach the previously downtrodden Johns Hopkins soccer team, and the Blue Jays made the NCAA Tournament in his final season.

He said, “The Princeton people figured, ‘If he could do that with something he didn’t know anything about, he could help this lacrosse program.’ “

Tierney laughed. “And the rest is kind of history,” he said.

In his 22 seasons at Princeton, the Tigers were 238-86, and won 14 Ivy League titles to go with the six national championships.

When beginning its search for a successor to Jamie Munro, DU contacted Tierney and other top coaches to see if they had any suggested candidates. Bradley-Doppes said she interviewed four finalists and was impressed with all, but was uneasy.

“I picked up the phone and I called Bill,” she said. “I said: ‘This is an incredible opportunity and I think you might be intrigued because you’ve dedicated your life to this sport. The way I see it, this is the only institution in the country where you can have a positive national effect on growing your sport.’ “

Bradley-Doppes insists she hadn’t gotten any indirect indications Tierney might be interested. But she knew that his son Trevor briefly had been a DU assistant and currently is an assistant for the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse. In part because Tierney and his wife, Helen, were planning on moving to Colorado in retirement, Bill agreed to listen. Bradley-Doppes said the agreement was that Bill would visit and – if nothing else – give his thoughts about the program and the four finalists.

“I knew what he was making, and we probably couldn’t come close to that,” Bradley-Doppes said. “But I knew that he could certainly make up the difference out here in camps and clinics.”

The DU contingent took him to the Broncos’ Dove Valley offices to meet with owner Pat Bowlen.

“He (Bowlen) told me about his love and support for the University of Denver, and the fact that his sons went there,” Tierney said. “He told me how much he has liked being affiliated with the lacrosse world, with the Outlaws. I’m an old football guy, and I was just thrilled to be in his company and to look out the window at the practice fields.”

After thinking about it over a weekend, Tierney said yes. He said he had received other offers during his Princeton stay.

“I certainly wasn’t looking then and I wasn’t looking now and the difference was that as crazy as it sounds, this one just felt right,” he said.

He also hired Trevor as his assistant.

“It was the cherry on top of the sundae,” Tierney said. “But we didn’t do it for that.”

Michael Johnson, the president of the Colorado Lacrosse Foundation, said Tierney’s hiring by DU is “amazing” for what it’s going to do for Colorado lacrosse and lacrosse in the western United States.

“It’s going to take what has become the hotbed of lacrosse in the past 10 years and just catapult it forward,” Johnson said. “He’s going to have people coming out here for camps, and teams coming out here to play DU. The guy’s been such a strong part of the development of lacrosse on the East Coast for years, even through things like information videos, and now he’s right at our back door.”

Terry Frei: 303-954-1895 or tfrei@denverpost.com