TigerBlog stood in the back of the lockerroom four times as a Princeton men's lacrosse national championship celebration played out in front of him (TB was still a newspaper reporter for the first two).
TB was also there for two other NCAA finals that went the other way. He stood off the side, in the background, for big wins and crushing losses, Ivy League championships and losses that ended Ivy titles hopes, great days and tough days.
He's heard Bill Tierney talk to his guys behind closed doors in every possible situation, heard Tierney run the gamut of every possible emotion, string together words that are forever embedded into TigerBlog's memory.
Bill Tierney won 238 games as the head coach of Princeton men's lacrosse. TigerBlog was there for at least 200 of them, including every one of the last 89 and 163 of 167 since TB became the men's lacrosse contact prior to the 1995 season.
And yet when word started to come that Tierney was considering a move to Denver and then later when the Hall of Fame coach confirmed it, TigerBlog's thoughts didn't turn to any one of those wins, any one of those championships, any of those postgame talks.
Instead, TB first thought back to 2006, when TigerBlog Jr. was in third grade and getting ready to play in the Liberty Lacrosse Tournament. The day before the tournament, the mesh on TBJ's only goalie stick broke. Quietly, TBJ whispered to TigerBlog: "Can you call Bill Tierney and ask him what we should do?"
Realizing that it was too late to get the stick restrung, TB did in fact call Tierney, who answered his cell phone while away recruiting. When informed of the problem, Tierney told TigerBlog to go to his house and then told him the code to the garage door opener. Tierney said there'd be four or five goalie sticks there; just grab what you need.
Later on, when TBJ went to Tierney's house to return the sticks after the tournament, Tierney told him that he'd used the stick that Trevor Tierney had used in the 2001 NCAA championship game and that TBJ should keep it.
That's who Bill Tierney is. Yes, he's a Hall of Fame coach. Yes, his move to Denver is one of the most intriguing moments in Division I lacrosse history. Yes, he won 14 Ivy League championships and six NCAA titles and went to 10 Final Fours and eight championship games in 22 seasons at Princeton.
There's also the undeniable fact that before Tierney came to Princeton, the sport of lacrosse hardly existed in the area around TigerBlog HQ. Today, as it's getting harder and harder to field youth baseball teams, every kid out there has a lacrosse stick, and this growth is directly attributable to Bill Tierney.
And yes, he's often a volatile figure on the sidelines during games, and that volatility – and the fact that he won big – made him a polarizing force in lacrosse. All you need to do is read a lacrosse message board to see that he is loved and he is hated and there isn't much in the middle.
Sadly, those who only see the fiery coach are missing more. Much more.
TigerBlog saw Tierney stop practice several times in the mid-1990s to accommodate media people who arrived late for scheduled interviews because of what he saw as a responsibility to help grow the game. TB has seen Tierney at camps, working easily with kids to whom he was lacrosse royalty. TB has seen Tierney talk to youth coaches, who had the same feeling as the kids, and spend literally hours talking about the game itself and his philosophies of coaching.
Earlier this year, a teammate of TBJ's collapsed at the end of a game. A healthy 12 year old who had just played a full game of lacrosse suddenly went down, with a racing heart and trouble breathing. A 911 call later, the boy was off to the hospital. It wasn't until two days later and every test imaginable that it ended up being something reasonably normal for a very tall, very thin, very athletic kid to have happen.
The next day, TigerBlog was telling Tierney the story, mostly focusing on how scary it was. At this point, there had been no follow-up news saying that the boy was fine.
"How can I help?" Tierney asked. "We'll send him a note. Get all the guys to sign a jersey for him. Anything at all. Let me know."
This past season, Tierney and his team became involved with Connor McKemey, a 14-year-old South Carolina lacrosse player who was burned over 85 percent of his body in a house fire at Christmas. This happened while his father was serving as a Marine in Iraq. The team's association with Connor began when Tierney simply wrote the boy a note.
That's Bill Tierney. That's the coach who is leaving Princeton now, who is heading West to help grow the game, to give himself one last new challenge in his coaching career, to be closer to his family, to work with Trevor.
When TigerBlog was walking out of Jadwin Gym yesterday, he saw Pete Carril in the parking lot. Carril stopped and gave his salutory "yoooooo" greeting. After a small chat, Carril continued into the buiding. TigerBlog had written the release about Carril's resignation from Princeton 13 years earlier, and now TB had his laptop with him, ready to write the same about Tierney.
It dawned on TigerBlog that these two men, Carril and Tierney, are quite likely the two greatest coaches in the long history of Princeton athletics. Sure, you can make a case for others, with a list too numerous to write down here.
Carril and Tierney, though, rise above the rest, for their longevity, for their success (and in Tierney's case, the lack of success that immediately preceded him) and for how each impacted the very manner in which his sport was played. And if you want to have two others on your list, that's fine, but Carril and Tierney have to be in the conversation.
Bill Tierney coached at Princeton for 22 years, and TigerBlog had watched him up close for 20 of those years, the last 15 literally from inside the lockerroom. TB watched as the program Tierney built from the ground up rose to the top of the sport on six different occasions and was there for so many glorious wins that he couldn't possibly say which the greatest one was. Was it the 2001 championship game? Maybe the 1998 playoff run? Maybe 2004? Or 1992, the first time? Or 1994, the year that proved 1992 wasn't a fluke? Where to begin? Which game to think of first?
And yet for all of that, on the day that Tierney announced he was leaving Princeton, TigerBlog's thoughts turned first not to a single one of those days but instead to an upset eight-year-old boy, a stick and how Bill Tierney did everything he could do to help.
What else is there to say?