Friday, February 26, 2010

And The Head Coach Of The Tigers Is Chris Bates

The first thing TigerBlog did this morning was check the web to see if the snow had impacted the work schedule. And, of course, the main Princeton site said the University was closed to "non-essential personnel."

TigerBlog has never been offended by being referred to as "non-essential," even after all this time. He's pretty sure it's not a reflection on his work or anything like that.

This most recent storm brought nearly eight inches to the Princeton area. That total exceeds all of last year's total - and is not even 20% of this year's ridiculous amount of snowfall. If anything, the fact that eight inches of snow fell here and the result was more inconvenient than paralysis shows you how quickly people adapt.

TigerBlog is pretty sure that it has now snowed the week before the first home men's lacrosse game for four straight years. Each year, the first game has featured pictures with huge snow drifts behind the playing field, as opposed to, say, bright sunshine and stands filled with people wearing shorts, like it's supposed to be with a "spring" sport.

As an aside, TB has always been a bigger fan of the idea of having it be cold for the beginning of the year than hot in the preseason and freezing by the end.

But, though the month is still February, lacrosse season begins tomorrow for Princeton, with the women at Johns Hopkins and the men at home at noon against Hofstra. While it may seem early to be playing lacrosse, consider that while Princeton faces off with Hofstra tomorrow in the season opener for both, North Carolina has already played four games. Four games?.

Of course, the 2010 season is the first for Chris Bates as Princeton head coach. Bates, as everyone knows, has taken over for Bill Tierney after Tierney left to become the head coach at Denver following last season after a 22-year run at Princeton that included six NCAA championships and 14 Ivy titles.

TigerBlog spent an hour with Bates last week for a feature story about the new coach's Princeton debut. It was an interesting discussion, as TB learned so much about Bates that he didn't know. And we're not talking resume or biography here.

TigerBlog would like to think, at least, that he knows just about everything about Tierney and about Pete Carril. Their stories are so familiar:
* Tierney's father drove a Rheingold beer truck; Carril's worked for 40 years in the steel mill in Bethlehem and never missed a day
* Tierney played football and baseball until he got to college, when he was introduced to lacrosse; Carril grew up poor and used basketball as a way to have a different job than his father
* Tierney told his first recruiting class that they were going to win a national championship; Carril was a teacher and high school basketball coach for years before he ever got to coach in college

TB could go on and on about either, and it's because he has spent decades observing each man, one (Tierney) as he built his legacy and the other (Carril) as he put the finishing touches on his.

Bates? He is a brand-new subject for TigerBlog.

Sure, TB has known him since he was hired last June, but it's only now, as lacrosse season approaches, that TB has really gotten to see what he's all about.

What strikes TB most is how comfortable Bates is with everything around him. You want to talk about a difficult task? Here's a new coach, replacing arguably the greatest coach in the sport's history. He's doing it minus the eight seniors who graduated last year, all of whom were either three or four year contributors. Perhaps his best player this year (defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, a preseason All-America) is out for at least the first half of the season with a knee injury.

Yet anytime TB talks to Bates, the new coach seems so comfortable with what he's doing, with how he's doing, that he can't help but notice.

At the same time, there's a huge adjustment - for everyone. Players, especially, but even people like TigerBlog who've been around the program for a long time.

TB and Tierney had, over time, developed a rapport, a way of doing business. Chris Bates has his own way of doing the same things. Really simple things, by the way.

For instance, Tierney never wanted a box score at halftime. TigerBlog asked Bates, and he said he'd like one. Like TB said, really simple things, and lots of them.

It's the big picture, though, where Bates has really impressed TB, especially the hour he came in and talked.

It was like your old friend came back after all those years, just to kick around the old times and share some laughs. It seemed so effortless on his part, again, so comfortable.

And yet, it has to be hard for Bates, at least on some level. It can't be easy to follow the legend, and it has to be really hard to deal with the legend's disciples. And yet he's doing it with what seems to be ease.

It'll be different tomorrow to see Bates as the head coach, to hear his name called over the PA as the head coach of the Tigers, to see what his sideline demeanor will be, to see what a gameday with Chris Bates is like.

Much like the snow, though, that transitional period will melt away, and it'll just be Princeton lacrosse, trying to win another Ivy League title and get back to the NCAA tournament.

Just with a different front man. TigerBlog doesn't know him well yet, but he's getting there. On the eve of his first game as head coach, Chris Bates is already off to a great start.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to seeing Chris Bates be the head coach. It was hard to root for Tierney sometimes, because he was so out of control during the games.