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Bill Tierney Part 2: Winning Close Game, HS Recruiting Advice, His "Coaching Blueprint"

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Today's guest needs no introduction. This is part one of a two-part interview with coach Tierney from Denver University. Coach Tierney has coached 7 NCAA national championship teams, including six in nine years at Princeton University and one at the University of Denver. 

Enjoy, subscribe on iTunes, and stay tuned for Part 2!


The Conversation

On how his approach:

I've always believed in the overload principle in coaching and teaching in that you give them too much information, you work them too hard, you put too much pressure on them, you expect so much more than they can possibly obtain. But at the same time, I've never told a recruit that if you come to play for me, it's going to be easy.  I've never had a player 5 years, or 10 years, or 15 years after he played for me in college write me a note and thank me for being too soft on him or too nice to him. They always write you back and say, "Thanks for challenging me. Thanks for working me hard."

Just the fact that they've gone through that experience and then can be a better father, or employee, or coach themselves.

On today's players:

I think that people will say kids have changed. And they certainly have. I think technology's changed, parents have changed, which changes kids. They're certainly more entitled right now with all of that. But there are certain traits that were true of kids when I was a kid and true of kids right now in the 21st century. And that is they want discipline more than they'll tell you.

When you talk about being at a meeting at 4:00, it means being there at 10 of 4:00.

When you talk about going on the road and looking sharp, and wearing a jacket and tie, it doesn't mean having a tie untied down to the middle of your stomach just so you have a tie on.

It means being good to people in airports, being kind to children whether it be kids that we're reading to in elementary schools or kids that you meet in an airport.

They're living in the toughest time to be a young man right now or a young woman with the social media. Their whole lives are out there in front of the public. And so we try to take away as many options for mistakes and get them to appreciate their teammates and love their teammates and do whatever they can for their teammates and then have them realize that if you have the power of 48 teammates pulling, it's much stronger than the power of you pulling for you.

On his haircut policy:

I make our kids cut their hair. It's probably ancient. It's probably old. It's probably not fair but two years ago, well three years ago now when we were recruiting Zach Miller he sat in my office and he told me he wanted to come to Denver. But I sensed something was wrong and I said, "Zach, what is it?" And he didn't want to tell me and finally, his mom told him to tell me and he said, "Well Coach, I hear you make your players cut their hair."

I said, "Zach, why do you wear your hair in a braid?" And he said, "Well, in my culture--."

And that's all he had to say and that's when I stopped. And I learned at that moment that you got to figure things out as a coach and having hard and fast rules are very important but you also have to understand people as well. And so we still have those rules in place but I feel that Zach's-- the meaning for him in his hair and in his braid are so forceful, so powerful that you can't have hard and fast rules for everybody all the time.

On team unity:

If you can get them to understand that your discipline isn't about your ego, it's about everybody pulling together, being on the same page.

When we line up to stretch, even with the guy in front of you, even with the guy behind you. When we wear our socks, we all pull them up. When we tuck our shirts in, we're probably the only team in the country who wears a jersey underneath their reversible for practice because I stand that some guys are wearing white t-shirts and some are wearing grey ones and some are wearing orange ones and some are wearing blue ones. I think it detracts from the concentration level.

On discipline, success, and life after lacrosse:

If they hadn't been disciplined, if they hadn't been forced to believe they could do it, they wouldn't have done it. And now you see what they're doing in life. They've all overachieved. That's what gives me the greatest satisfaction. Yes, the wins are great, but it's really more about what kind of men these guys become after they've spent four or five years with you.

On practice philosophy:

One thing I've learned -- and you can always learn as a coach, is less is often better. We've stopped the three and a half hour practices, and so that's something here at Denver we're very organized, we make use of every moment. We're like everybody else, we expect the guys to be out there 15-20 minutes early doing their fool-around stick work, getting their bodies moving, talking about what happened on the weekend.

Get all that stuff out of the way so that when we get started, we're ready to roll. And then we just do our normal stuff, our dynamic stretching.

Matt Brown (Denver Asst. Coach) has a different stick work drill every day for our offensive guys, and last year Dylan Sheraton and now John Orsen for our defensive guys, different stick work every day. You've got to keep them entertained.

Every time we do stick work, it ends up with a shot. So we have all these intricate patterns of our stick work, but the guy at the end always ends up with a shot. We shoot the ball all the time in our stick work.

We try to keep it moving. We go Mondays for an hour, Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours, Wednesdays for an hour and 15 minutes, and Fridays for an hour. We're not out there very long, we expect that they'll do a lot of their individual stick work with extra shooting practice that we'll do during the day, or maybe some one-on-ones or some footwork drills during the day when they have a break from class. We do their film. We do a little bit of teen film but oftentimes, they're doing their film on their own with their coach that's an offensive, a defensive coach. 

On posting the practice plan?

No, we don't show them. They don't know what's coming but they know that when we blow the whistle, they got to move. They know that we're not going to beat a dead horse or beat a great horse. When that 15-minute time slot's over I blow the whistle whether it's good, bad, or indifferent, and we move on.

I remember when I was an assistant at Hopkins, the guys figured out that at 5:45 if you put in conditioning, they know it's going to be a tough day, but if you put it at 5:55 conditioning, they knew it was going to be a pretty light day. So you know the players, they figure it out and paced themselves. Kids are smart.

On his part-to-whole approach to teaching the game?

I believe that there are fewer teachers in our game then there used to be.  I think what you learn when you're a teacher is that there are different ways of doing things. In education, they call it either the "part-to-whole" method or the whole to part method, which basically means, I give them the big picture, right from the start, I'll throw six guys out there on defense and a goalie on our first day of practice to show our freshmen what it's supposed to look like.

And then what we do is, then we break it down. Then we'll talk about, for instance, if it's defense, we'll talk about one-on-ones but not trying to stop your guy one-on-one, just driving them in the direction that you want them to go. Next, teaching guys how to slide, where to slide, when to slide. Then it'd be two-on-twos. Maybe we want to talk about how to defend picks. Maybe we want to talk about switches, and getting through and those kinds of things. Or maybe two-on-two on the inside or something like that. Next might be three-on-threes, where we're teaching the three middies up top because a lot of guys are using motion offenses or movement offenses now. How to slow play a slide. How to move towards your guy. How to move towards the ball. How to approach your guy when he gets the ball. Those kinds of things. And then four-on-fours, which mine incorporate a slider and the three guys up top, or a slider and the three guys behind. Or maybe we divide it in half, on a side with a wing dodge. Five-on-five. Six-on-six. All these things. And so the answer to your question, long-winded, is that we try to develop individual skills, especially in the fall.

And then throw it all together. We've gone now from whole. We've gone to the parts, and now we go back to the whole where they should, at this point, be able to incorporate all those skills they learned and put it all together.

On preparing for an opponent:

We used to do a lot more. When I was at Princeton we'd do-- God, we might do 45 minutes a day of just half field, based on the other team. Now it might be 20 minutes, but we do talk about it.

It becomes a little bit smarter to concentrate on the things that you do and be able to make adjustments during games, as opposed to guessing every little thing that might happen in a game, because that can change in a heartbeat. 

I think we want to have them prepared for as much as we can, for our opponent. But more importantly, having them prepared to know the basic rules they can fall back on if all else fails and the team does something that we weren't ready for them to do.

On how to get noticed as a high school player?

I think it's very difficult for young people. Number one, the game has grown dramatically, so there are more good players out there. NCAA rules don't allow us to send anything to anybody, other than a simple information sheet and information about camps, so we need to know from the kids or their coaches who might be interested, especially being 2,000 miles from the East. 

We know when a kid is serious about Denver when he'll take a trip from Long Island and fly out to Denver. If he writes us an email and says, "Gee, coach, I'm interested in your school" and he doesn't put your name on it or he doesn't mention your school in the body of the email [laughter], you know darn well it's just a mass email.

On parent involvement in recruiting:

Nowadays you got to get the parents more involved with the recruiting. And that's a little scary because some are just agents, some don't care where their kid goes just as long as he goes and gets as much money as he can which is absurd because that's a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, I think parents have skills that a 15 or 14 year doesn't have. They understand people. They understand sales. And as I always tell them that, "Lacrosse coaches are salesmen." They've got to understand that. And so I always tell the kid that, "I know you're smarter than your parents. And you know you're smarter than your parents. But they've bought houses and they've bought cars, and they know what salesmen are like. So you've got to listen to them.

On ways to improve themselves at whatever it is they're doing, every day:

Well, I always listen to advice. Not because I'm a good person, but because it gives me a great amount of time. Number two, just try to do your best with other people. Try to do your best with just treating everybody the way you'd like to be treated. And then finally thirdly is, set high, high goals for yourself. Dream big dreams. Believe that you can do things that nobody else around you believe that can do. And if you do those things, you'd be amazed how much you can accomplish.

About the Host

Joe Yevoli (@joeyevoliis an Entrepreneur and former Professional Lacrosse Player in the MLL.

Joe’s a graduate of the University of Virginia, and Syracuse University. He’s a two time All-American, 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year, and a member of the 2003 Virginia National Championship team.

About the Guest

Bill Tierney (@DUCoachTierney), a native of Levittown, New York, currently coaches the men's lacrosse team at the University of Denver. Coach Tierney has coached seven NCAA DI championship teams, including six in nine years at Princeton University in one at the University of Denver. Tierney's teams have had a combined winning percentage of .750. Prior to Princeton & Denver, Tierney has successful stints at Great Neck South High School, Levittown High School, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), John Hopkins, as both an assistant on the men's lacrosse team and the head coach of the women's soccer team, and Team USA.

Tierney is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Long Island Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

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