Matt Brown succeeds the legendary Bill Tierney as head coach
After hours of stocking shelves early on a Sunday morning, Matt Brown left a Safeway grocery store in Burnaby, British Columbia, and told his dad the job wasn’t cutting it anymore.
But when he thought about his post-high school plans, the University of British Columbia wasn’t all that appealing. Neither was the local Simon Fraser University. And, despite spending countless hours in the arena that minted Colorado Avalanche great Joe Sakic, Brown’s hockey career wasn’t panning out.
“And [my dad] just kind of looked at me and said, ‘Well it’s up to you,’” Brown (BSBA ’05) remembered. “‘You’ve gotta do something about it.’”
That something, Brown said, was dialing up his internet connection and indiscriminately emailing a letter to any U.S. university with a men’s lacrosse program.
It felt like a longshot, Brown admitted. Sure, he had played the sport all his life (though usually as a summer cross-trainer for hockey), but he hardly knew a thing about American higher education or the style of lacrosse they played.
“Within 45 minutes of my email going out, the coach from Denver called me on my landline at home,” he said. “Weeks later I came down for a visit and the next thing was I committed to the University of Denver for the fall. It was the best phone call I’ve ever received and I [was] so grateful for the opportunity.”
This spring, the University announced it would be giving the former player and longtime assistant coach a new opportunity. Next season, the Daniels College of Business graduate will succeed the great Bill Tierney as head coach.
“This day is a dream come true,” Brown said in April, at his welcome press conference. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity to lead a program that has meant the world to my life and my family’s life.”
When Brown first arrived on campus in 2001, he felt out of his league. The version of the sport he grew up playing (known as “box lacrosse”) used a smaller field, shorter sticks and a different strategy. Collegiate “field lacrosse” tested his physical endurance and on-field IQ.
But before long, Brown found his place on the team, making a name for himself as a dangerous goal scorer who moved even better without the ball in his possession. In the record book, only five players in DU’s history have tallied more points than him. Only three have scored more goals.
Perhaps more importantly, Brown’s class laid the foundation for DU’s remarkable success in a sport typically dominated by east-coast schools. (DU is still the only program west of the Mississippi River to capture a Division I national championship in lacrosse.)
Off the field, Brown found a home in the Daniels College of Business. The first-generation college student earned a dual degree in finance and marketing, a background he says has been “extremely valuable to his success” as a coach and youth program director.
“What I loved the most about Daniels was the ability to have the interaction with the professors,” Brown said. “Coming to class was more of coming to a boardroom meeting, not just sitting in a lecture hall and being on an island by yourself. This was more of being able to participate and engage and learn from your peers and really have the knowledge soak in. What a fantastic opportunity to learn and environment to learn in. I’m so thankful for that and I loved my whole experience at Daniels.”
Upon graduating, Brown secured his first “real job”—and quickly realized that a cubicle wasn’t his ideal work environment. Coaching high school kids during his brief professional lacrosse career showed him he belonged on the field. In 2007, his former coach, Jamie Munro, invited him back to DU as a volunteer assistant—which quickly turned into a paid position.
“I started to realize that this is what I wanted to do long term,” Brown said. “I had the opportunity to stay at my alma mater and give back to a place that gave me so much. I’m really thankful for that.”
As the team’s offensive coordinator, Brown supercharged the Pioneer attack. His strategy focuses on the way players move without the ball, incorporating the pass-heavy and up-tempo style he grew up using in box lacrosse.
Other programs took notice—but none successfully lured Brown from his alma mater. Denver, he said, is his place. His wife, three daughters and in-laws all live here. He co-founded the Denver Elite Lacrosse youth club, as well as the Denver Elite Box Lacrosse Program, which has grown the game on youth and professional levels.
And, he’s all in on the University of Denver’s culture. Interpersonally, Brown wants to continue Tierney’s legacy of authenticity, accountability, empathy and vulnerability.
It’s why he got emotional when Josh Berlo, DU’s vice chancellor for athletics and Ritchie Center operations, introduced him to the team as its new head coach.
“That was the moment where it all sunk in,” Brown said, recalling the whoops and cheers from his players. “I get choked up when I talk about the school in general—when you think about what it’s given me, the opportunity coming from a young guy who was working at a Safeway. That moment on the field was a day I’ll never forget.”