5 of Bill Tierney’s Greatest Moments

By Wyatt Miller | Apr 16, 2024

In a 50-year coaching career with seven national titles and one World Lacrosse Championship, it’s hard for Bill Tierney to narrow down his greatest moments to only a few.

Tierney won six NCAA titles at Princeton in the span of 10 seasons. In the 21 tournaments before and since that run, respectively, no coach earned more than four. Add a Team USA title along with DU’s 2015 national championship, and no high-level lacrosse coach in history has a wider selection of winning memories to choose from. 

The 71-year-old coach of the Philadelphia Waterdogs said he’s apologized profusely to parents, players and supporters for leaving out their favorites. Tierney acknowledged he’s been “blessed” with a legendary career, so much so that his happy memories are hard to choose between. Yet, he isn’t shy about the fact that one stands above the rest. 

Here are five of Tierney’s greatest coaching achievements, with his fondest at number one:

5. Tierney shocks the lacrosse world with move to Denver

Tierney schlepping from Princeton, New Jersey, to Denver, Colorado, was instrumental in the growth of the game. When people talk about a coach’s biggest achievements, most go to the actions they enable on the field. But this choice is worthy of being among Tierney’s greatest moments because of the positive repercussions that followed.

From 1966-2009, Denver appeared in just two national tournaments with no quarterfinals appearances. It seemed like downright madness for what was widely considered the greatest coach of all time to stoop to that level. But that’s not how Tierney thought of it. He wasn’t lowering himself, he was raising up an entire region and spreading the game he loves. Plus, he “wanted another challenge.

“People questioned either my sanity or place in life when I moved from Princeton to Denver,” Tierney said. “But there were other goals in mind when it came to the big picture of helping the game of lacrosse move west.”

Tierney instantly took the Pioneers to nine-straight national tournaments, winning one. 

4. Tierney brings Denver its first national title in 2015

Tierney had already launched expectations with three final fours in his first five seasons, but that championship eluded him until 2015. This broke a 14-year national title drought for Tierney, the longest of his head coaching career. 

In classic Tierney fashion, the Denver defense stifled a perennial contender, Maryland, to win 10-5. Wes Berg matched the Terrapins’ goal total on his own, and the Pioneers held star attackman Matt Rambo to two goals on eight shots – nobody else on the team scored more than one point. But after he was finally back on the mountaintop, Tierney made sure the players knew it was their achievement, not his.

“He was like, ‘You guys did it,’ like ‘I’m so proud of you guys,’” said faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste. “In the moment, you’re like, ‘Of course,’ but looking back on it, to hear that, it wasn’t about him at all, and that’s how he made it.”

3. Princeton beats Syracuse in 2OT to win first NCAA title in 1992

The 10-9 double overtime thriller between Syracuse and Princeton was an instant classic, and gave the Tigers their first NCAA title. Syracuse had been in four-of-five championships since Tierney took over in 1988, a juggernaut led by the Gaits and Tom Marechek. 

After two-plus hours filled with aggressive contact and some fiery language from Tierney on the sideline, Princeton came out victorious. Afterwards, he was “publicly reprimanded” by the NCAA after several altercations with the referees were deemed “critical and unacceptable,” according to The New York Times. As we now know, this in no way discouraged him from inciting future incidents with referees.

When Andy Moe bounced in the game-winner off the opening faceoff of double overtime, that marked the moment Princeton lacrosse came back from the dead. The Tigers had not won a national title in the sport since 1953, well before the NCAA was established. In just five years, Tierney helped return the storied program to its former esteem, and he was on top of the dogpile when it happened. 

2. Princeton completes the three-peat in dominant fashion (1996-98)

The first one was a close call, as the Tigers barely escaped with a 13-12 win over UVA in 1996. The next two were double-digit blowouts over Maryland, 19-7 and then 15-5. Princeton beat Syracuse in the ‘96 tournament, Duke in ‘97, and then both to cap it off in ‘98. If that’s not a dynasty, then what is?

Jon Hess, Chris Massey and Jesse Hubbard took the league by storm, and Tierney adapted his approach because of them. The way Tierney used to win, with a slow offense and dominant defense, just wasn’t cutting it anymore. So, once he got some cache in the NCAA, Tierney got that offensive firepower.

Princeton became the third Division I lacrosse program in NCAA history to win three-straight national championships, joining juggernauts Johns Hopkins (1978-80, 1984-86) and Syracuse (1988-90). Nobody has done it since. 

1. Tierney wins the 2001 National Championship with his two sons, Trevor and Brendan

It was a storybook ending to the most emotionally-charged season of Tierney’s life. Exactly like his first national title in 1992, it came in the form of an overtime win against Syracuse, with a score of 10-9. When B.J. Prager sunk the game-winner, Tierney collapsed to the turf in tears. In his eyes, that will always be his greatest achievement, because he got to enjoy it with his two sons, Trevor and Brendan.

“Winning that championship with my two sons on the field, I tear up even talking about it here so many years later,” Tierney said. “It was just such a moment to cherish and to have it come to fruition the way it did is no doubt that that’s number one.”

This win put Tierney in a tier of his own. Having won six championships in his first 14 years, no other coach had won as much or as often as him, and they still haven’t. It cemented him in every GOAT debate, and he’s looking to add to that resume with the Philadelphia Waterdogs.