Tuesday, October 18, 2016

William G. Tierney Field

Bill Tierney stood at a podium.

Behind him was the field that is named for him. Beyond that was the scoreboard with his name on it.

Displayed on that scoreboard still, more than an hour after the final whistle of the day this past Saturday, was the final score. Again, Bill Tierney's team had more goals than the other team, even on a day when the outcome didn't count.

Moments earlier, Bill's son Trevor, an All-America goalie who played for his father at Princeton and led him to the 2001 NCAA championship, had spoken.

"My father never wanted to have his name on a field at a training facility for players," Trevor said. "My father wanted to have his name on a training facility for referees."

That was funny.

Then Bill Tierney started to talk. TigerBlog will get back to what he had to say shortly.

TigerBlog has spent a lot of time around Bill Tierney in his lifetime. The first college lacrosse game TB ever saw was Penn-Brown when he was in college. The second was a 1990 Princeton game, in Tierney's third season as Tiger head coach. TB was with Tierney from then until 2009, when the coach left to take over the program at Denver.

The most emotional TB has ever seen Tierney was after the 2001 NCAA win, his sixth at Princeton, the only one he won or ever will win with both of his sons, Trevor and Brendan, on the team.

After B.J. Prager's game-winning goal in overtime brought down Syracuse 10-9, Princeton players, coaches and pretty much everyone on the sideline ran all over the Rutgers Stadium field, hugging, jumping on each other, dog-piling.

TigerBlog stood off to the side, taking it all in. He had plenty of first-hand experience with Tierney, and he knew that anything that had ever happened before that on a lacrosse field, including three other NCAA titles in overtime and two others that were won by 10 and 12 goals, Tierney's reaction was always the same. It was like he expected everything to play out exactly as it had.

That 2001 win was different, because it involved his sons. That time, Tierney dropped to his knees and buried his head in his hands, weeping, overcome with the moment.

That was the most emotional that TB has ever seen Tierney, dating back to when he first met him, back in 1990.

The second most emotional? That was Saturday.

The setting was a little up I-83 from Baltimore, at the U.S. Lacrosse headquarters. Part of the new facility is a playing field, one that will be used for any number of events, including U.S. national team training and exhibitions and nearly 15 college games this coming spring.

The name of the facility? William G. Tierney Field.

Bill Tierney has won seven NCAA titles, with six at Princeton and a seventh at Denver. He has taken his teams to 14 Division I Final Fours. He built both programs from the ground up.

Princeton had never been to the NCAA tournament before Tierney got there and hadn't won an Ivy title in more than 20 years. Denver had reached one NCAA tournament and lost its only game prior to Tierney's arrival there in 2009.

He is, without question, the greatest lacrosse coach of all time.

The event Saturday brought his former team, Princeton, together with his current team, Denver. It was a fall scrimmage, which normally would mean no score, players in pinnies, a handful of spectators and a tailgate for each team after.

This wasn't that. Not in any way.

This was a celebration, of the facility, of the people whom Tierney has touched and especially of the coach himself.

For much of Saturday, it was business as usual for the man they all call simply "T." It was a fall scrimmage for his team, which is smarting after losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament a year ago and is primed for a big run this coming season, quite possibly to his eighth championship. It's what keeps him motivated, knowing there's always another season and another challenge to come.

There he was before the game as always, with his counterpart, in this case Princeton's new head coach, the eminently likeable Matt Madalon. Tierney has clearly bought into what Madalon is bringing to the Princeton program, and the two of them have built a solid bond in a short time, beginning with Madalon's call to Tierney as soon as he got the job.

If you don't know Bill Tierney, he's not exactly what you see on the sidelines during a game. His intensity on game days is legendary, and he hasn't really mellowed all that much through the years.

Away from the field, though, he's quiet. He speaks softly pretty much all the time. The worst thing he ever calls anyone is "knucklehead," and even then he means it with great fondness.

He has time for everyone who ever comes up to him to tell them their story, their connection to him through their coach, or maybe their uncle who played for Bill in high school, or maybe their cousin who played against him. Always - 100 percent of the time - Bill knows exactly who the person is, remembers every detail and comes back with some sort of compliment for the person in question.

In the lacrosse world, there are few bigger "celebrities," for lack of a better word, than Bill Tierney. And yet there is almost nobody more approachable.

Publicly, he is completely humble and modest, more so than he needs to be. He gives all the credit to his players and assistant coaches, as if he was just along for the ride, as if it's coincidence that NCAA championships have followed him.

Privately, he succeeds because he surrounds himself with the best people he can and then empowers them to do what they do.

More than anything else, TigerBlog can sum him up with two words: loyalty, and accountability. He has your back at all times - and he demands that you live up to your end of the deal. TigerBlog felt it as the athletic communications contact all those years. Imagine what the players feel.

His loyalty to his people is reciprocated. Once you're one of Bill Tierney's guys, you're one for life.

So there they were Saturday. His guys. Lots of them, from every stop of his coaching career, especially from Princeton.

This is what Princeton does. It celebrates better than any group TigerBlog has ever been around.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Tierney's first championship, also 10-9, also over Syracuse, also in overtime (that one on a goal from Andy Moe). The Class of 1992 was well-represented there Saturday, beginning with Ed Calkins, who helped spearhead the effort to name the field after Tierney in the first place.

There were others there too. And they came from all over. Chad Muir, one of the 1992 guys, came from Texas. Kurt Lunkenheimer, from 1999, came from Florida, just like Calkins. There were doctors. Lawyers. Financial leaders.

All back to support their college lacrosse coach.

And then, as TB said, Tierney began to speak. And again, he was emotional.

He talked about how blessed he's been in his life. Literally. Tierney always starts every postgame press conference by thanking "the Lord and his Blessed Mother," and he expanded on that to talk about how he doesn't understand why he's been chosen to be so fortunate in his life.

He thanked his family, all of whom were there (his wife Helen, his sons Trevor and Brendan and his daughters Courtney and Brianne).

He thanked his players. The coaches who worked with him, especially David Metzbower at Princeton and Matt Brown at Denver. He singled out Bryce Chase, his "best friend" at Princeton. He even mentioned TigerBlog and his counterpart at Denver, the amiable Niko Blankenship.

At the end, he said that he didn't want his tombstone to say how many national championships he'd won. He wanted it say that he loved all of his players.

It was heartwarming to watch. It was from the heart, and every word was genuine.

After Tierney was done, the party resumed. There was a ton of food, from both teams and from U.S. Lacrosse. As TB always says about lacrosse, somebody wins, somebody loses and everybody eats.

And there on the table under a tent were two small posterboards, and the invitation to write a note to the coach.

TigerBlog has written a lot about Bill Tierney in his life. He hasn't really written much to Bill Tierney.

So what would he write in two lines?

TigerBlog thought about all of what the sport of lacrosse has meant to him for the last 28 years. He thought about all of the great games and wins. He thought of all of the great people he's met in the sport, at Princeton, in the lacrosse media, from other schools, through his children's participation. And of course he thought about how special it's been to be around several generations of Princeton men's lacrosse players.

More than that, he thought about what lacrosse has meant for him as a father. It's been the bond that has connected him and his son more than anything else. It's the sport through which he has seen his daughter mature, athletically and as a person, from a little girl barely interested in playing to a confident, driven teenager who gained much of that perspective on the field.

And who introduced TigerBlog to all of this? Bill Tierney.

How different it all might be, TB thought as he stood there, had he not had the great fortune to cross paths with Tierney all those years ago.

So what did he write. He wrote this:

"Thank you for bringing the sport of lacrosse and everything that has come with it into my life. You're the best."

And he is. The best. On the field. On Tierney Field.

And anywhere else.

It's an honor to be one of his guys.

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