May 25, 2011

Ten Years Later, Tierneys Return to Final Four Together By Way of the West

by Justin Feil |

Denver men's lacrosse coach Bill Tierney salutes the crowd Saturday at Hofstra University, where the Pioneers took down Johns Hopkins to advance to their first final four -- just two years into the Tierney era at Denver.

© Greg Shemitz

Helen Tierney will be in the stands at the men's lacrosse final four this weekend in Baltimore, and for the first time since 2001, she's there not just to support her husband, Bill, the second-year head coach at Denver, but also their oldest son, Trevor, who is an assistant coach to Bill.

"I think it's really special," Helen said. "Two of the people I love the most are doing something together that they love. It's pretty amazing."

When Bill Tierney left the Princeton men's lacrosse family that had taken 22 years to build, it helped that he had blood family that went back even farther to join him.

Trevor Tierney, the oldest of Bill and Helen's four children, was an assistant with the Denver Outlaws when he agreed to jump back into the college ranks to join his father two years ago on the new Denver men's lacrosse staff.

"When he came out here for his interview, not a huge part of him thought he'd be coming out and taking the job over," Trevor said. "As he was leaving, he had this really worried look on his face. He realized he wanted to take the job. That's when he was worried about telling his players at Princeton, making a huge transition and breaking it to my mom. I could tell he was going to do this thing. He asked, 'Do you want to do this thing with me?'

"There was a big part of me that was thinking about getting back in. I interviewed for the Duke job. I decided I didn't want to make the move out there. Me and him started talking and it sounded like a great opportunity for me. I thought it would be great to work with him and help the DU program grow."

Now to the Pioneers, they are Coach T and Coach Trev, or just Trevor.

"It's kind of difficult for the players," Bill said. "But he's young. He's comfortable in who he is. He's got great relationships with the guys, which is great because he speaks their language. I don't."

They share the last name and a passion for winning, something that assistant coach Matt Brown, who runs the Denver offense, sees every day.

"They're different in that Coach T has been coaching the game a long time, and he's got a little more old-school approach and is fiery," Brown said. "People say Trevor is calm, but he gets fired up. He's the only goalie to win championships at the college, world and pro levels. I've had a chance to play with him, and you couldn't meet a better competitor. He's the complete competitor.

"There's no question, they're the ultimate competitors, both of them. They know how to win."

Before Denver, they were last together at the final four 10 years ago when Princeton won the national title in Trevor's senior season. Bill was last there in 2004, but hasn't won it since he had Trevor and his other son Brendan on the 2001 team. Now Trevor is off to the final four again, this time as a coach for the Pioneers, who face Virginia in the semifinals Saturday.

"We have much more contact now," Bill said. "Metzy (former Princeton associate head coach Dave Metzbower) was Trevor's coach. I was not. I don't talk to goalies anyway. They're a different breed. Metzy was Trevor's coach. It allowed Trevor and I and Brendan and I to have successful dad/son and dad/player relationships."

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Trevor is the first to work with Bill outside of a camp setting. Brendan helps coach at a high school in Oregon, daughter Courtney coaches basketball at a private school in New Jersey and youngest daughter Brianne is the head coach at Division III Lebanon Valley College (Pa.).

"It was a lot easier as a player, I can tell you that," Trevor said. "As a goalie, you kind of do your own thing and your coaches will say something to you every once in a while. Working with him, it's a great blessing to get to spend a lot of time with my dad. I feel like I get to know him more from working with him than ever before.

"It can be challenging though. There are times when you want to rip each other's heads off. We have those times and we work through them. Our main thing is to do what's best for the team."

Helen Tierney was concerned about that combustible side to them, but she's seen her son and husband work well together.

Trevor Tierney (right) played for his father Bill as a standout goalie at Princeton, both proven winners. Ten years after they won a national championship together, they're back in the final four as head coach and assistant coach. Said Trevor of his father as a coach: "I've learned a lot from him. He's learned some from me.

© Trevor Brown

"When this all began," she said, "I told them, 'When you're at odds, I don't want to hear about it. I'm definitely not taking sides.' They respect each other and know each other's strengths and they listen to each other, which is a good thing."

There is a new dynamic as coaches and co-workers this time, bringing their own ideas to Denver to make the Pioneers into big winners. Bill has his ways after three decades in the business, but he's not too stubborn to accept some changes that Trevor and Brown have suggested.

"The thing that I love is there are some times when he'll be going crazy at the refs or the team, and I'll get the sense that guys are getting tight," Trevor said. "I'll say something about it, and he'll agree and calm down. I really like when he does that. It just shows me he's open to listening. With as much success as he's had, a lot of coaches would be egotistical. He's been very open to new ideas."

Like yoga. The Pioneers practice yoga through the preseason and once a week during the season. Trevor still does yoga himself and got his instruction certification a few years ago. He also takes the team through a brief focus session before each game in which they visualize having success.

"He's always been a little weird," Bill said. "He's always been the big brother to the three siblings and a different thinker.

"What I've learned is so much from him. It's OK to do things a different way, as long as the kids believe in you."

The Pioneer players have. They follow Bill because they know his winning resume, and they want to win. They follow Trevor because he's won everywhere he's been as a player and brings that passion for success as an energetic coach that connects with them.

"The best part about him is he is different," Bill said. "He's not a coach's coach. He doesn't live, breathe and die this stuff. He's a fantastic artist. He runs the Tierney lacrosse business pretty much single-handedly. It makes him very special and makes him not have to be that 18-hour a day lacrosse grunt that his dad has been all those years."

Bill had never coached with Trevor before he came to Denver. He had no doubts that Trevor could do it, yet he's been impressed by his son's abilities and impact.

"The biggest thing is the amount I've learned from him," Bill said. "That's been really, really cool. You're in any business long enough, you do it your way. Having a chance to come out here, and doing it my way, it would have been new for these kids and would have been fine. Having Trevor and Matt Brown and [Denver volunteer assistant] Dylan Sheridan and last year Kevin Unterstein, getting these younger guys to – they wouldn't believe it – get me to relax more. I'm doing things a different way. I'm more amenable to different things. Our practices are a lot less micro-managed."

Trevor wasn't quite sure how his father, a proven winner with his ways, would react to some of the suggestions, but Bill has been open to suggestions at the defensive end from Trevor and on offense from Brown.

"He really makes everyone feel wanted and welcome and appreciated," Brown said. "When you act like that, everyone wants to be a part of it. He does that better than anyone I've ever been around."

Said Trevor of his father as a coach: "I've learned a lot from him. He's learned some from me."

While Bill will get a lot of the credit for taking the Denver program to new heights, Trevor has drawn praise for the play of the Pioneers defense and of goalie Jamie Faus, who has played all but 47 minutes of the season. Working with the talented freshman has come easily to Trevor.

"He's so similar to what I was like in college," Trevor said. "He reminds me so much of a younger version of myself, not just in goal, on and off the field. It's really fun to work with him. I get to teach what I learned over the years to a younger version of myself. It's been pretty interesting. He's doing things in his freshman year that I was not even capable of."

Added Bill: "One thing we decided when we had Jamie coming in was we weren't going to try to change him. Trevor's style is unique and he's tweaked him some. He's bought into some of things that Trevor has taught him and will continue to get better."

So will Trevor, who's only beginning his coaching career. He's adjusted quickly frin coaching pros to college, which he had just one year of experience as a volunteerassistant at Denver just out of Princeton, the first indication that he might follow in his father's footsteps.

Freshman Jamie Faus has benefitted from Trevor Tierney's tutelage. "He's so similar to what I was like in college," Trevor said. "He reminds me so much of a younger version of myself."

© Greg Shemitz

"I knew coming in, Trevor knew his lacrosse," Bill said. "You're not around that long to not know your lacrosse. His adjustment came from coaching five days a week as opposed to an hour or two before games. That was his adjustment. He clearly made it, and he's now part of a great team, with all four of us."

They have taken the Pioneers farther than ever. Both Tierneys admit that the Pioneers' first trip to the final four after topping Johns Hopkins, 14-9, last Saturday has come a little earlier than they would have predicted.

"We've always talked to them about we want to go to the final four; we want to challenge for national championships," Trevor said. "I think we believed it could happen. It's awe-inspiring how quickly he's done it, and how the team has done it.

"For as long as I've seen it happen, I've gotten to see him build up Princeton into a national contender, and they were terrible when he got there. It continues to amaze me how he continues to do it, how he gets them to come together and come together for a common goal."

Denver is 15-2, a program record for wins, and being a part of it together has made it extra special for the Tierneys.

"I turned the other day and I'm next to my son," Bill said. "That's pretty special. His impact on that Hopkins game, he made a couple huge adjustments during the game. That was coaching. Petro (Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala) and his staff do an amazing job throughout the season and throughout the game. Trevor had some fantastic ideas that he implemented during the game. I'm thrilled and happy to have him next to me."

Their family time is spent on the lacrosse field, and that is enough at times.

"We see so much of each other," Trevor said. "Me and the other assistant coaches, we're together all the time. When we have time to get away, we do."

The Tierneys do find some time to hit the slopes in the surrounding area, another of the draws of Denver for Bill and Helen. Trevor snowboards. Bill skis. Most of their time together is spent coaching, not hanging out.

"When he really wants a good meal, he comes to see his mom," Bill said. "When he needs his dog babysat, he'll come over."

"I don't know if it's me," Helen said, "or my food."

The whole family will be together again in Baltimore this weekend, something they are all looking forward to.

"It's been a long time," Helen said. "It's been 10 years, for Trevor too. Trevor thought he'd get to his 10th reunion, but he'll miss it because he's at the final four."

Trevor and Bill Tierney are back together, this time on the sidelines as father and son, coaches and leaders of the new family they are raising in Denver.

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