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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Tierney to Denver not just another coaching change

This is not just another coaching change.

Can you imagine how many times a school has asked Princeton's Bill Tierney to leave the Tigers and lead their program? Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina, Duke and a few others are among the programs rumored to have approached Tierney in the past. Tierney said yesterday that this opportunity at Denver was one "that I never thought would come my way." That makes me assume he's had Denver on his mind for a while and it was just a matter of waiting out Jamie Munro, a much younger man who had the job for the last 11 years. Whether it was Munro or the university that made the decision, Jamie resigned on May 7 after posting a 91-70 mark at Denver. I am not trying to fuel speculation, but did the school know of Tierney's interest before Munro's departure? I'd fire any coach in the land to get Tierney.

This is not just another coaching change. Bill Tierney is not just another coach. He's the best. This will change the game and he knows it. In his statement yesterday he said, "The expansion of the game to the West is exciting. If we are truly going to make lacrosse a nationwide sport, we need for some programs out there to become great. I think I can help Colorado lacrosse become the launching pad for that movement."

He's exactly right and he's the only one who can do that in my eyes. If Petro or Zimmerman or Desko were headed to Denver, I would say they sold out for the money, and that the money was likely wasted. But Tierney will have Denver in the final four in three years. A national championship will be won within five years. I have no doubt at all. The others would do as well as Munro out there, which was admirable, in my opinion.

This is not just another coaching change. My guess is that Tierney is now the highest paid coach in college lacrosse history, if he wasn't already that at Princeton. Denver is coming as close to buying a championship as you can come. With it they finance the expansion of the game's geographic center. Denver was a hotspot already with great pro crowds and huge growth on the youth level, but Tierney will exponentially improve the area in a few years. The Denver summer camps will become a must for blue-chip players. He will draw some of the finest high school players in the land immediately, albeit, perhaps not of the academic caliber he is used to. But that will be a new twist, too. Imagine Tierney being able to recruit kids with less than a 1400 on their SATs. Princeton's academic standards were always a barrier for most kids that would have played for Tierney if they could have.

This is not just another coaching change. Tierney will make the state of Colorado a rival to New York and Maryland as a lacrosse hotbed in short order. He will expand the attendance of Denver lacrosse games from an average of 1,300 fans (2,000 for the Notre Dame game) to over 10,000 in a year's time. He should be able to capture much of the 15,000-person crowds that attend Colorado Mammoth (NLL) and Denver Outlaws (MLL) games. College lacrosse at the top level has usually done better than any other levels of the game in lacrosse hotbeds. This increased attendance, especially by kids, will exponentially grow the game in Denver, eventually.

This is not just another coaching change. It will limit a Denver recruit's access to local Division I lacrosse for a while. That is the short-term downside to such rapid change in an area like Denver, at least for some of the kids there. In 2009, the Denver team included 12 players from Colorado while the Princeton team had none. The whole field of NCAA tournament participants included seven players from Colorado. Under the Tierney era, it will take some improvement in the local high school lacrosse for Colorado kids to make the Denver team in the near term. But in a few years, the make-up of the Denver roster may look more like Princeton or other big NCAA teams than the local team it is now.

Eventually it will help Denver kids, but the immediate impact will be a negative one, I would think. Every great coach who takes over a program utilizes what he has while he brings in who he wants. That usually means that each class is exponentially better than the last and that kids who start as freshman each year might not start again after their first season. I saw it happen at Georgetown as they went from being an obscure team of Northern Virginia and Montgomery County kids to a national powerhouse with mostly New York and Baltimore kids. The building blocks of these rising teams are often very temporary and it can get awkward as every year freshmen replace the starters.

This is not just another coaching change. This is a change to the game that will benefit our sport greatly. I've always moaned about the exclusivity of champions at the Div. I level and suggested that it would take a conspiracy of players to choose a school like Denver or some other outlier to grow the game, but I overlooked this method, thinking Tierney would live out his years at the Ivy League institution where he is an institution. But this will do the trick nicely. Believe me, with yesterday's news the conspiracies just started. Great high school juniors and sophomores are thinking "Go west young man" as of today! The best kids at Gilman and West Genny and Wilton and Malvern and Georgetown Prep have widened their horizons in a day. The geographic borders of potential greatness just expanded five-fold.

This is not just another coaching change. The applications for the new opening at Princeton will likely set a record. It is the best job opening in years. I can't imagine someone other than David Metzbower getting the job. Tierney's longtime assistant is the top assistant in the game and he could provide a seamless transition. He is the recruiter and a strategic mastermind who Tierney always shared credit with when they won championships. The national job search may just be a formality.

This is not just another coaching change. This is Tierney's last job. He's looking to be near family and find a spot to live out his post-collegiate coaching life, too, and what place better than Colorado. His old friend Fred Acee was the coach for years at Air Force and Tierney understands the great quality of life awaiting him. I have always envied the coaches that have a niche in some community that is comforting. Hank Janczyk stands out to me in a small town like Gettysburg. What a life he has up there! I am sure Princeton was a comfort to the Tierneys, but it's not exactly a retirement mecca, despite the slow pace that the pretty Main Street facade evokes. I am surprised a little that Tierney did not go to Jacksonville, but he must be a mountain guy instead of a beach guy and the hotspot for that type of living is just where he's headed.

He is also headed into lacrosse immortality. He's already legendary for his coaching. Now he's attempting to achieve something far more important, something so rare, perhaps only he could do it. Good luck, coach!

June 9, 2009
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