How Bill Tierney landed with the Waterdogs, and his plans for the team

By Wyatt Miller | Apr 2, 2024

Over a year ago, when Bill Tierney knew his college coaching days were coming to an end, he reached out to the league. Despite his impending retirement, Tierney told them he may be interested in joining the professional ranks if something opened up down the line. 

Then, Andy Copelan resigned as the Waterdogs head coach and general manager last month, and the process pulled Tierney in naturally.

“I don’t think of it as coming out of retirement to take it,” Tierney said. “The ball just rolled, it wasn’t anything conscious, just taking it step-by-step and it seemed to work out for everyone, so why not?”

Nonchalant as ever, Tierney explained how a few key conversations made his hiring possible on both ends. The most important factors, he said, were the talks Tierney had with Jack Hannah and Ethan Walker, who played under him recently at Denver. 

In a league where talent is overflowing, culture has been a differentiator for the Waterdogs. Their ability to retain free agents year-over-year is evident, and it often manifests in their trust in one another come crunch time. Tierney knew the close-knit nature of the squad from doing ESPN weekends last season, and it drew him to that opportunity, but he needed more information. Naturally, he turned to his former players, Hannah and Walker.

“They know what I’m like and what I think is important,” Tierney said. “They both expressed the culture around the team, guys being unselfish, guys caring about winning, guys caring about each other, all those good things were really prevalent in this group. 

“You never know (how it’ll go) when you put together all-star teams, which basically every team in this league is, but they just knew it was a lot like our team at Denver. The guys are great and would buy into however we went about our business, so that was interesting and that’s what really made it a positive for me.”

After that, Copelan was “redundant,” expressing the same sentiments that Hannah and Walker did. The team is completely committed to winning, having gone to two-straight championship games, and “everything he said was music to my ears,” Tierney said.

After some interviews, Tierney got the top job. And with his resume – highlighted by seven national championships – it would be hard to deny him in favor of, well, anyone. Tieney is one of the best defensive minds the sport has ever known, and the Waterdogs defense is incredibly intriguing to him. When asked who he’s most excited to coach, it started with the goalies.

Dillon Ward had the best save rate of his career last season (61%) at 32 years old, with his high-arc approach. The Ontario native “has won at everything he’s ever done,” Tierney said with reverence. Ward as the backstop makes Tierney’s job a lot easier, and Matt DeLuca is a more-than-capable starter if need be.

In front of Ward, Tierney loves how the Waterdogs defense communicates. 

“They play together phenomenally,” Tierney said. “If you went around the league people might say, this guy’s the best defender, pole, or shorty. But individuals, that’s not what it’s about, it’s about units. Those guys seem to be in-sync and know each other.”

Eli Gobrecht, Ben Randall and Liam Byrnes are quite the trio of long poles, with guys like Ryland Rees mixing in from the midfield. Last season, the Dogs’ four-man short stick group made a massive impact as well, causing countless turnovers and contributing in transition. The Waterdogs led the league in defensive efficiency as a result, causing 80 turnovers.

The aggressive yet cohesive nature of this group attracted Tierney to the job before any of his conversations. But now that he’s taken the job, more conversations are on the horizon. Tierney’s plan for this week is to talk with each player individually to get to know them better and find out where everyone’s at physically.

Tierney spoke with the team over Zoom last week to introduce himself, and his mindset, to the squad.

“The word I used when I first talked to the team, the most important word, is trust,” Tierney said. “You’ve seen in this league, there are times when the offense gets together and there are 12 voices all saying something different. You can’t have that… They need to trust in me and my staff to make the final decision, to guide them in the right direction.”

“The group seems to be rolling all in the same direction, so I want to find out each individual situation,” Tierney said. “You’re always trying to not only win, but prove yourselves, because there’s hundreds of players that are really good out there that aren’t on teams.”