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Bill Tierney's last dance: A look at the everlasting legacy of the greatest coach in college lacrosse

DU Pioneers hockey player Tristan Broz scores 4 goals in 4 shots
DU Pioneers hockey player Tristan Broz scores 4 goals in 4 shots 02:05

"He's the John Wooden of  college lacrosse."

Bill Tierney's coaching career spans nearly half a century, and it's filled with unprecedented success. Tierney is the only men's lacrosse coach to win seven Division One championships. He's the first coach to win titles with two schools. He's a USA Lacrosse Hall of Famer. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"He's the most legendary coach in the game," Danny Logan, former Denver Pioneer, said "From his success over the last 40 to 50 years, he's touched every part of the game. Many of the current college coaches can attribute some part of their success to Coach T."

University of Denver mens lacrosse coach Bill Tierney in his office on the campus
DENVER, CO - MAY 02: University of Denver mens lacrosse coach Bill Tierney in his office on the campus on Monday, May 02, 2016. Tierney has his Pioneers back in position to return to the NCAA tourney to defend their title from last year.  Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post

Tierney's list of accomplishments reads longer than a CVS receipt. But that's all that it is to him – a list. Tierney does not measure success by the number of trophies in a case.

"Don't put on my gravestone how many championships I've won, put on it that I love my players," Bill Tierney said. "You go through 49 years of coaching with an average of 40 or 50 young men, that's a lot of people you've had under your mentorship."

Spend five minutes with one of Tierney's players and it's clear to see that his impact off the field somehow outweighs his tremendous success between the lines.

"What he's doing to help boys turn into men and become better people, better in the classroom, better people in society, better husbands and fathers – it's special to look back on it and know you're part of that fraternity that got to be coached by him," Eric Law, former Denver Pioneer said. "When you're on the field he expects greatness, but he also expects greatness of the field."

"You come to DU as an 18-year-old, not really knowing what direction you want to take in life, and he helps you grow into the person you're going to be. When you leave here at 22, 23 years old, you feel like you have a solid base and a good head on your shoulders. You're ready to take the next step" Logan said. "He really does a great job of molding the young men he coaches and gets them ready for the next 50 years of their lives."

One thing that makes longevity in coaching difficult is the rapidly changing landscape of sports - especially in college. Adapting to the times while maintaining one's core principles is a true art form, and Tier has done it flawlessly for decades. Now he's ready to go out, on his own terms, at the end of the 2023 season.

University of Denver vs Notre Dame, NCAA Lacrosse
DENVER, CO - MARCH 07: University of Denver head coach Bill Tierney walks off the field at halftime against Notre Dame with his squad during the Pioneers' 11-10 win. The University of Denver hosted Notre Dame on Saturday, March 7, 2015. AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

"The feeling just comes with knowing it's time. There are so many changes going on in the NCAA, higher education, and in our sport. Young coaches are different than older coaches. With that in mind, I  just feel like it's time to move on and leave this place hopefully better than I found it, leave this place with its cupboard full," Tierney said.

Tierney most certainly is leaving Denver better than he found it. When he arrived, the program had made just two NCAA tournament appearances. Five years after Tierney's hiring, the Pioneers became the first team outside the Eastern time zone to win a national title. Now, because of all Coach T has done, DU is a top landing spot for some of the best talent in North America.

"It was the first time people started to recognize the west and Colorado as kind of a lacrosse community. That it could be its own hotbed," Law said.

"Coach Tierney is the main reason I came here. For most of us out here, if you ask anyone, they would say the same," JJ Sillstrop, senior attackman, said.

As he gets ready to hang up his whistle, one thing is certain, Tierney is going to hate having this year be a season-long farewell tour.

"The one thing I am dreading is this nice guy lap," Tierney said.

But sometimes, the goat doesn't get to have it his way. Tierney is inarguably the best coach the sport has ever seen, and we reserve the right to laud him for it

"I know he'll take every chance to say this is not about him, this is about this team," Logan said. "I think everyone is going to do a great job of realizing this is his last trip in college lacrosse. Everyone is going to take a moment to recognize him. But he's going to want wins at the end of the day."

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