Bill Tierney

“Top of the Totem Pole” with Bill Tierney

Here are some short thoughts and words of wisdom, experience, advice, and philosophy from Denver Head Coach Bill Tierney from his speech at last year's IMLCA Convention.


We have been lucky to be able to be close to some of the game's best coaches and players over the years. It's one of the thing that makes lacrosse so special for us here at Lacrosse Library, that you can still reach out and meet and talk with the legends at the top of the lacrosse world. College and Pro Football and Basketball aren't like that. You're not just going to run into Tom Brady or Lebron James at a camp or a tournament. The lacrosse world really is one great big family.

Bill Tierney is one of those special people that we would otherwise never have access to. He's an absolute maniac on the sideline during a game, but the real Bill Tierney, is one of the most humble and attentive people you will ever meet. A week after winning the 2015 NCAA DI National Championship with Denver, his seventh in his career, we were coaching at his camp, reffing his summer teams at tournaments, and renting his home field on the DU campus for summer league. He took the time to come out and talk to us, see what we were doing with our players, and even helped us move some equipment. All this from a man who was literally sitting on top of the world at that moment.

So without further ado, we'll just give you the best of what Coach Tierney can teach us, in his own words (lightly edited). We watched the whole 45-minute speech for you in case you haven't:


Any business, any organization, anything that goes on needs Coaches. None of those can work without communication, sacrifice, performing under pressure, doing your job, and hard work. Traits that we profess and traits that we do each and every day. You guys, the impact that you have is immense.

If you want to be a good individual Coach, be a good Team Coach. Share ideas, respect different approaches, and learn something from other people.

Very few of you are now where you will end up. Getting the respect of others will pay off in the long run. Get involved. Start off by volunteering to do something small. Learn what to do, introduce yourself to other Head Coaches and Assistant Coaches. Learn what not to do as well. Keep paying respect to the game, and you will end up being great.

Peers will end up being around a lot longer than players or students. Remember that the guys in this room, fired head coaches need friends too. On their way up the ladder, and coming back down the ladder as well.

Build 'TEAM' into everyday activities with your staff and players. Is it "My way, or the highway?" Have your priorities. Let your assistant coaches figure stuff out. All that really matter is that your kids are getting to the end result. What that will do for you is start building a team into your coaching staff.

Argue in the office, not on the field. We're all singing the same song, because the kids are listening to you. If one coach is saying one thing, and another coach is saying something different, you're asking for trouble.

There's been a lot said lately about "freedom,"  you know, "free play" and all that, and I think that's wonderful for developing skills. Over the last 40 years, there have been very few teams with coaches that said, "Go ahead boys, just go play," and they won national championships. There have been many more that were less talented than the ones they were playing, who had a good plan, who made good coaching decisions, and beat those other teams.

Show film of your practice back to them. Kids nowadays are visual learners. We have a four-step approach to teaching them this stuff- Whiteboard, film, skeleton, live. If they can see it, and then see it again with themselves, then you can get some really good improvement.


Believe in something bigger than yourself. We tell ourselves to plan for everything, but I hate to tell you, there's a plan bigger than ourselves, and none of it includes winning every lacrosse game. Understand that we're not the biggest thing out there. Be humble, be thankful, but understand we're not in control.

Discipline is not about punishment. If you're disciplined, you won't need to be punished. You just can't fall into the quote about "kids these days". It's your job not to fall into that. Deal with the kids, not the parents. Don't answer the parents phone calls, don't answer their emails. Deal with the kids. Having discipline in their lives will change them drastically.

Exhibit in your life the traits you want them to have. Try your best with the important stuff. Grasp onto the things that we face that are much more important than our games. The kids will know if you're doing stuff that you're asking them not to do.

Keep reaching. Dream big. If we set our goal at .500, and you're under, then it's way short. If you set it for the National Championship, and you hit .500, for them, you're giving them something to really, really strive for. Your players will follow your lead. You gotta dream big if you want to achieve big.

Have support, give support. We have all these different people in our lives, all these people are giving us support. Judge your success by what others had to give up for you to achieve it. None of us do what we do, none of us is successful without all these people in our lives giving support.

Be ready for surprises, even your own. All I ever wanted to be was the head football coach at my high school. The surprise of my life was moving on from the goal of my life up to that point. Don't be afraid of forks in the road. It's not going to go the way you dreamed it. But if you take some chances, and you look forward, and you have people supporting you, you can do anything.

On time is late. We've all been late, but if you have this thing about 10 minutes before, if you're out on the field a little earlier than the kids, they will really appreciate that. That's a great time to make some conversation with them as well.

Create a great culture. This is an easy thing to say, all the leaders, all the motivational speakers are talking about this, but it's so important nowadays. How do we do this? Find reasons to praise your players. Find reasons. It might be the last player on the team, it might be somebody who showed improvement, it might be someone who's just worked really hard that day, find the practice player of the game. Because not only does it motivate that kid, but it makes the others look around and think, "If the coaches are looking at the last kid, I better be working."

Trevor Tierney did something one time, he said, "I'm not sure you're going to like what I'm going to do with the guys today." He made all 50 guys sit in the locker room and say something nice about each other. Everybody had to say something nice about one of the other guys. Guys came out of that locker room, I'm telling you, that was the best practice I've had in 40 years. They were flying all over the place. I wish I'd done that 40 years ago.

The next Monday, he says, "You're not going to like what I'm going to do today. I'm going to make them criticize each other." And nobody wanted to say anything. And it goes on and on and it was the worst practice we've ever had. So what we learned is how to communicate with each other.

Playing time is one of the greatest gifts we can give our players. The courage they gain from that is something, you just never know. You just never know. Get guys in the game if you possibly can. You'll be amazed how much it means to them.

And then the Thank-You's. Thank them for things they don't expect thanks for. Thank them for doing well in school. Thank them for not getting in trouble over the weekend. Thank them for all the little great things they do.

Engage every athlete every day, or at least try to. We have line drills or stretching lines, go up and down and say something to them, you can't get to them all every day. But they really love that little bit of attention.

The "24-Hour Rule": if you give them a literal or figurative kick in the butt one day, within 24 hours you try your best to give them a literal or figurative hug if you can. (*John Danowski has the same rule at Duke.)

Thrive off the energy of doubt. Your opponents or your non-believers. We all have that game we remember where just nobody thought we could do it, and we took care of business. There's no safer place than being an underdog. Thrive on that. So what if you lose. But what if you win? They'll remember that.

Fear of Success. Everybody fears failure. I've come up with this concept of fear of success. To be successful takes a lot of hard work. When you've really put your mind and body to achieve something, and you do it, and it feels great. But then you've got to do it again, and do it again. The only thing that matters, as Bill Parcells says, is the next one. And so, Fear of Success is fear of putting yourself to that level of work again. Talk to them about that. Remind them how much it took to get there, but also how great it felt.

Do everything well. None of us is perfect, but try your best. I'm not just talking about coaching now. I'm talking about everything you can do .When you have the chance to make a decision to do something, do it as well as you possibly can.


Five of the people I admire most have a common trait, and that trait is that they cannot walk past a piece of paper without picking it up off the ground. It doesn't matter whether they're in their office, on campus, out in the middle of the street. They can't do that. The reason for that, is it's not humbling for successful people to do that. They have such confidence in who they are and what they are, they're not afraid of the outside noise that others might give.

Evaluate, re-evaluate, and make adjustments. Not just in lacrosse, but in everything you do. What's your challenge? Before you really face them, you've got to evaluate the challenge, make a plan to meet that challenge, and then re-evaluate. What if I'm wrong? Have other ways to meet that challenge.

Observe, and listen. I think the most important thing for us to do is listen to other people when they have their opinions. And after that, make adjustments, and the first thing it's ok for you to say is, "I was wrong." It's okay to say I'm wrong, just have an adjustment plan.

Take the high road. You wake up to only you. Be able to forgive yourself. We all say stuff, we all do stuff we wish we could take back that sometimes we just can't. In practice, if something happens once, you know it's going to happen again. Try the next time, "I'm going to act this way." By taking the high road, you're the only one who knows you.

Positively question authority. Everyone has bosses. The best way I've found is asking the question, "Could we try it this way?" You're still saying why, but you're having a good idea about what you think would be a better way to go.

Understand your role in the organization. Everyone can't be the boss, but everyone can have a hand in the success of the program or the team or job or the culture. More importantly, no one likes to work with negative people. Try your best to not be negative. Find a way to have a positive hand in what's going on. When you are not the boss, accept the role. Work hard for more responsibility and more respect, and suddenly you'll find it.

If you can, maintain a level of happiness. Coaches hate losing. Winning is easy. It's not easy to win, but it's easy to accept.