He's Just Crazy About Lacrosse

May 19, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

PRINCETON, N.J. -- On any Saturday in the spring, the game face of Princeton lacrosse coach Bill Tierney can be found nose-to-nose with an official.

There are patches of white in the corners of his mouth. Veins bulge on his neck. His arms are outstretched to his knees, and his palms are wide-open. His legs are bobbing like pistons, because Tierney has to go face-to-face on his tiptoes.

And the words that can come from those lips . . . .

"In fun, the players call that move 'The Jackhammer,' " said Kevin Lowe, Princeton's senior attackman. "We understand him because we know he is fighting for us, and because of his intensity, we usually don't play flat. Actually, Coach is a pretty relaxed guy. Something just happens to him on game day."

If pictures can paint words, color Tierney as lacrosse's Bob Knight, though he hasn't thrown a chair.

Yet.

On the flip side is a man who is dedicated to his family as well as Princeton lacrosse.

Tierney, 43, has four children, drives a station wagon and has a golden retriever named Karo (after the syrup). He reads Tom Clancy and John Grisham novels. He plays golf. Freddie Smith, the late Johns Hopkins defensive coordinator, had the most influence on him, when Tierney was an assistant at Hopkins from 1985 through 1987.

All Princeton players under Tierney have graduated in four years or sooner, and he once turned down an offer to return to Hopkins as head coach because he "didn't want to lie to his recruits" about winning titles.

He's actually a quiet person.

"Most of the time, you don't even know he's around when he's with the family," said Tom Tierney, 51, Bill's oldest brother. "You never hear him raise his voice to his children. But the moment he steps on the turf, he turns into a psychopath. He's gone. Over the edge. He has the Clark Kent-Superman syndrome."

Tierney has funneled his energy into turning the once-dormant program at Princeton into one of the elite in lacrosse. In seven seasons, Tierney has guided the Tigers to five consecutive Division I playoff appearances and an NCAA championship in 1992.

The Tigers (11-1) are seeded No. 3 and will play No. 6 Hopkins (9-4) Saturday at Palmer Stadium in the Division I quarterfinals. Princeton won the first game between the teams, 20-12.

Before Tierney's arrival, Princeton never had reached the NCAA tournament.

"He's intense and demanding, and he seems to get the best out of his players," said Bob Scott, former Hopkins coach and now the school's athletic director. "The proof is in the pudding."

But what about those bouts with officials?

"I'm very conscious of that bad habit, and I've tried to work on it over the years," Tierney said. "I like to be in control of every situation. When an official makes a call that I disagree with, I have a problem with that, because it's a situation I can't control.

"I've seen myself on TV sometimes, and say, 'Bill, what are you doing?' This year, I think I have done pretty well."

But flash back to the 1991 Loyola/George Transfer Tournament championship game at Loyola. Tierney was outraged at several calls, and, at halftime, screamed for officials standing at midfield to come to the sidelines.

The head official's response: "Get lost, Bill. I'm not coming."

Tierney hears similar words from officials.

"I've heard from the director of an officiating committee that there are some officials who won't do my games because they're not hard enough," Tierney said. "But there are some officials who handle me easily, like Fred Sheckells and Rich Tamberrino. They just say, 'Hey Bill, stop acting like a jerk.'

"I think it all comes from my dad," Tierney said, laughing. "If it doesn't, I'm going to blame it on him anyway."

Tom Tierney agrees with his brother. The Tierneys are from Levittown, N.Y. Their father, Thomas, drove a beer truck, and their mother was a school nurse. Bill was the fourth of five children, and they all loved sports.

Tom Sr. wanted Bill to be an accountant.

"Bill had the personality of an accountant," Tom Tierney said. "He was shy, didn't talk much, but he was always serious about sports.

"Dad believed in discipline. When we sat down for dinner, no one lifted a fork before Dad. If he said be somewhere at 4 o'clock, you'd better not be 30 seconds late. That move [the Jackhammer] that Bill does, he got that from Dad. I think we all have that streak in us."

Bill Tierney also got a strong family concept from his father. When he's not involved with lacrosse, he's helping with homework or playing a sport with his children.

It's the atmosphere Tierney has promoted at Princeton. His office door is seldom shut, and players drift in and out, talking about anything and everything.

Tierney was a reserve attackman at Cortland State in New York, and he knows how to make backup players feel wanted. Tierney uses a "Group Madness Unit," a collection of second-stringers that he occasionally inserts during a game.

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