Matt Brown has spent more than two decades — as a player and coach — with Denver.

Matt Brown — aka 'Mr. Denver' — the Perfect Fit for the Pioneers' Future

Matt Brown knew he didn’t want to go anywhere else but Denver to coach lacrosse.

The last two days have demonstrated that plenty of other people feel the same way about the Pioneers’ longtime associate head coach, who was named to succeed the retiring Bill Tierney on Wednesday.

Consider the reaction of this year’s players when Denver athletic director Josh Berlo informed them of the school’s decision to go with in-house promotion.

“We’ll be saving that video forever,” Brown said Thursday afternoon.

It was a display of pure joy, and maybe also some relief. The Pioneers (7-4 entering Friday’s game against Providence) have played this season with some uncertainty about what the future held since Tierney made his retirement plans public in January.

Now, Denver will move forward with someone tied to the program for more than two decades. Brown was a four-year starter for the Pioneers, later served as a volunteer assistant and was promoted to a full-time role when Tierney arrived in the summer of 2009.

He’s been there ever since, playing a part in five trips to the NCAA semifinals and Denver’s national title run in 2015.

“I do think the school got it right,” said Eric Law, who played for the Pioneers from 2011-13 and was an honorable mention All-America attackman as a senior. “The team got it right, and this is the guy for the job. He is Mr. Denver.”

“The team got it right, and this is the guy for the job. He is Mr. Denver.”

— Eric Law

The greatest benefit to Denver — which is 164-58 in 14 seasons under Tierney, including 11 of its 13 all-time NCAA tournament appearances — from promoting from within is arguably continuity.

Brown credits Tierney for laying a foundation that will not be altered. But that doesn’t mean things will be identical for the Pioneers to come.

Nor should it.

“Like any good business, you need to make subtle tweaks and subtle adjustments and adapt and change with the times,” Brown said. “The game of lacrosse has changed quite a bit since 14 years ago. The recruiting world and the landscape of the NCAA is constantly changing, it seems like on a daily basis. We’re going to make sure we’re staying ahead of the curve.”

The immediate payoff Denver received when it hired Tierney was the credibility infusion that came from a coach who had won six national titles at the time. With Brown, it’s the knowledge it would have been impossible to select someone with greater knowledge of where the program has been and where it could go.

Former Denver faceoff ace Trevor Baptiste recalled Thursday the first time he met with the Pioneers’ coaching staff during his famously late-developing recruiting process. There was excitement about what Denver had already done, as well as what it might be capable of moving forward.

“You could tell how passionate the whole group was, but especially Coach Brown,” said Baptiste, a four-time first-team All-American from 2015-18. “He’s really about making Denver great all around. Making the program, the school, the players, everyone to be special, and he’s not going to settle for mediocrity, which was very apparent from the get-go.”

Law said Brown’s belief in the university and the program was a compelling element for players, who could feel his competitiveness and drive to be the best. It also imbued Brown with an appreciation with how the current Pioneers have handled business this season.

That’s something he had to do as well, given how much he valued the possibility of becoming the head coach at his alma mater.

“Thank goodness we had the season,” Brown said. “Practice and the games, that was my main focus, and coaching this team on a daily basis. In the spare time, and I’m so thankful I had to go through this process, it gave me an opportunity in the evenings when I was at home to think about our program and what we’ve done here, where we’ve been, what needs to happen moving forward, how would I change things if I was to take over.”

And that would be …?

“It’s more of, ‘How do we continue to be an elite-level lacrosse program?’” Brown said. “My goal, since the first day I stepped on campus, was I want this program to be the best lacrosse program ever.”

It’s a big dream. It won’t be easy to attain. But it doesn’t sound remotely as outlandish as it did 22 years ago.


Matt Brown was introduced Thursday as Denver's next head coach.

So what is it like to play for Matt Brown?

For one thing, it’s safe to assume everyone involved will get their exercise, and then some.

“There’s always so much going on, and it takes someone who can be thinking on their feet and constantly moving,” said Law, who remains close to the program as an analyst on the Pioneers’ TV broadcasts on the cable network Altitude. “One of things he stresses is ball movement and people movement. You have to make sure you’re in good shape to be playing for Coach Brown.”

Baptiste knows that all too well. As a freshman, he was thrown onto a scout team defense tasked with defending the likes of Erik Adamson, Wesley Berg, Connor Cannizzaro, Zach Miller and Tyler Pace — all of whom would register at least 40 points during the Pioneers’ title run.

It was bad enough to get torn apart endlessly by that group. But in a drill called “swoops and swings,” Brown would demand the offense complete a certain number of passes (which seemed to increase by the week) before going to the cage.

“He’s like, ‘You have to get to 12 passes,’ and if they’d go out of the box or drop the pass, he’s like, ‘Do it again,’” Baptiste said. “You just keep running and just keep going. Sometimes I’m like, ‘You guys better not mess up today, because you know he’s going to come back next week with 15 passes. You guys better get this thing done because I can’t go triple reps. I don’t know if I’m going to make it.’

“It’s a tribute to how he expects greatness and he’s going to push everybody. He knows it could be great and it will be great, but he’s going to push things to another level.”

Both Baptiste and Law credit Brown for his relationship-building and ability to connect with anyone for both his success as the Pioneers’ offensive coordinator and his potential to thrive when he’s in charge of the program.

When a team wins a national title, it’s not uncommon for its assistant coaches to be offered the chance to lead a program of their own. Brown opted to remain in the Mile High City, and now he’ll lead the program he’s been a part of for more than half of his life into a new era.

“We’ve had opportunities, but this is home,” Brown said. “There’s no other place that I would want to be to push it forward. I’m excited about the challenges that lie ahead. I’m excited to continue to push and get us back up to the top and win more conference championships and win more national championships, but most importantly, make sure we create an environment and a culture that we have — Pioneers that are proud for the rest of their lives.”


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