Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 27
 
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
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SERIOUS CHALLENGE: New Princeton University men’s lacrosse head coach Chris Bates poses at the Class of 1952 Stadium last week after taking the Tiger job. Bates, who posted a 70-71 record as the head coach at Drexel the last decade, faces a serious challenge as he takes over for Bill Tierney. Hall of Fame coach Tierney, who recently took over the University of Denver program, guided the Tigers to 18 NCAA tournament appearances and six national titles in 22 years.

Boasting a Solid Track Record at Drexel, Bates Primed to Follow Tierney at PU Men’s Lax

Bill Alden

Phil Bengston, Gene Bartow, Bill Guthridge, and Ray Perkins are not exactly household names on the sporting landscape.

They are four coaches who had the unenviable task of succeeding legends and none of them lasted longer than four seasons in their bids to follow in the footsteps of giants.

Bengston followed Vince Lombardi on the Green Bay Packers, Bartow succeeded John Wooden with UCLA men’s basketball, Bill Guthridge replaced Dean Smith at North Carolina, and Ray Perkins took over Alabama football after Bear Bryant’s retirement.

Now Chris Bates is going to get a sense of the challenges that quartet faced as he takes the reins of the Princeton University men’ lacrosse program after the departure of Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney to the University of Denver.

During Tierney’s storied 22-year tenure at Princeton, he molded a doormat into a power, guiding the Tigers to 18 NCAA tournament appearances and six national titles.

While joking that one of his main goals is to stay at Princeton longer than the three seasons Guthridge spent at the helm of the Tar Heels, Bates isn’t shy about what he brings to the table.

“I couldn’t have more respect for Coach Tierney and what he has done,” said Bates, a 1990 Dartmouth alum who compiled a 70-71 mark in 10 seasons as the head coach of the Drexel University men’s lax program.

“But I have a good way of doing things and that is what I am going to focus on. I have established a track record of producing every season. We may not have had a lot of big wins but we are always real competitive. I emphasize hard work and promote excellence in all areas.”

Initially, Bates had no desire to be the man to replace Tierney. “I was shopping in a store and I got a call, my jaw dropped a bit, it was the end of an era,” said Bates, recalling his thoughts when he heard Tierney was leaving for Denver.

“I thought good for coach Metzbower [PU associate head coach David Metzbower]. I was very happy at Drexel, I had just signed a new contract. Princeton called me and I was flattered to be called.”

Once Bates threw his hat into the ring, he quickly became enamored with the Princeton situation.

“It’s a place that speaks for itself in terms of what it stands for,” said Bates. “My wife and I went up there on Tuesday before my interview. I had last been there 10 years ago for a camp and we were impressed. From a lacrosse standpoint, it is one of those programs. I have been coaching since 1992 and I have seen it grow into a power.”

With Princeton having gone 13-3 in 2009 on the way to the NCAA quarterfinals and returning such stars as goalie Tyler Fiorito, defenseman Chad Weidmaier, midfielder Scott MacKenzie, and attackman Jack McBride, Bates believes the program can remain powerful.

“The cupboard isn’t bare,” said Bates, who guided Drexel to 31 wins in his last three seasons there including a shocker over top-ranked Virginia in 2007. “I know the names, it is a good, solid group. We should be competitive.”

While July is a major recruiting period for lining up high school stars, Bates is also going to focus his efforts on winning over the players already on board.

“I need to re-recruit the kids who are already here,” said Bates. “I need to make the transition go smoothly. I will try to keep things simple; I want to help the kids achieve their goals and have a great time at college.”

Over the last decade, Bates has grown as a college coach. “When I was a young coach, I was more emotional,” said Bates.

“I have matured; I try not to get too high or too low. If a star goes down, another player is around to step up. I am better at dealing with the ebbs and flows of the season.”

One thing that has helped keep Bates on an even keel is his team’s gritty, blue collar approach to the game.

“We will play what we call West Philly lacrosse,” asserted Bates, who guided Drexel to a 7-8 overall record this past spring and a 3-3 mark on Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) play.

“We don’t back down from anyone. We go after every ground ball. We build from the defense out. You can stay in games if you play good defense. It is not a high risk style, you pick your poison on offense.”

The value of that approach was best exemplified in 2007 when Drexel stunned top-ranked Virginia 11-10 in its season opener.

“That was a watershed moment in the greater lacrosse perspective,” said Bates. “We had been building toward that, we had gotten closer to teams in our league like Towson, Delaware, and Hofstra.”

Now Bates is looking forward to more big wins on the national stage as he takes over a Princeton program that annually plays such perennial powers as Johns Hopkins and current national champion Syracuse, not to mention Ivy League foe Cornell, the 2009 NCAA runner-up.

“It’s exciting,” said Bates. “It’s like the Gene Hackman character in “Hoosiers.” You tell the players the free throw line is the same and the height of the basket is the same for both teams. You need to take care of what we can do.”

If Bates can take care of business in following Tierney, he won’t end up as the next Bill Guthridge.

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