MSU Press Release
Rick Comley, one of the longest-tenured and most successful coaches in NCAA history, will retire from his position of head hockey coach at Michigan State University, effective at the end of the 2010-11 season. The announcement was made today at Comley’s weekly press conference.
Comley is currently in his ninth season as the head coach of the Spartans and his 38th season overall behind the bench of a collegiate hockey program. One of just two head coaches to win NCAA titles at two different institutions, the head coach of three national championship teams, and ranked among the top five coaches all-time in collegiate victories, Comley is among college hockey’s most accomplished mentors.
“I have been very proud to be a part of Michigan State hockey, and I would like to thank Ron Mason for giving me this opportunity nine years ago,” said Comley. “This program is very special, with a long tradition of success. I am very proud that we could bring a national championship here in 2007, and not only have we had good hockey players in our locker room, we have had quality young men who represented this program well in the classroom and in the community. I want to thank them, as well as my staff, for an experience at Michigan State that leaves me with many great memories.
“As I continue on as the head coach for the remainder of this season, our focus for our players and staff will not change. We have improved throughout this season, and it is important for all of us to continue to try to improve every day. While the end of my Michigan State career is on the horizon, we owe it to these players to continue with business as usual. We have two important games this weekend, and four more series after that – and each game is important. That is, and will remain, our focus in these coming weeks.”
“I have a great respect for Rick Comley, and his accomplishments not only at Michigan State, but throughout his 38-year coaching career,” said Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis. “Coach Comley is among a distinguished group of coaches in his sport – one of the top-five in victories all-time, and among a handful to win national championships at two institutions. We thank him for his contributions to Michigan State hockey and our athletics department during his tenure.”
Highlights of his Michigan State tenure start with the 2007 national championship, and include the 2006 CCHA Tournament title, and Great Lakes Invitational titles in 2004, 2006, and 2009. He has had 12 former MSU players skate in the National Hockey League, 15 All-CCHA performers, six All-Americans, and three Hobey Baker finalists. In addition, four have earned Academic All-America honors, and three of the five winners of the CCHA’s Ilitch Humanitarian Award have played at MSU under Comley. Overall, Comley has coached 10 Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalists, 15 All-Americans, four league players of the year, 26 first-team all-league selections, and 85 academic all-league selections. As of January 22, he owns a 778-608-110 (.557) career record in 38 seasons and is one of just five coaches to surpass the 700-win plateau. He has recorded a 181-133-39 record in his MSU tenure.
Comley’s 2007 national champions finished fourth in the CCHA and third in the CCHA Tournament, but went on a magical run through the NCAA Tournament which featured victories over Boston University, Notre Dame, Maine, and Boston College - some of the most prominent programs in college hockey. That team finished with a 26-13-3 record, and each of his first six teams finished with 20 or more victories. The Spartans made three straight trips to the NCAA regional finals (2006, 2007, and 2008), and remain the only program since Denver won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005 to even return to the NCAA Tournament field the year after winning the national championship. The 2008-09 team was hit hard by graduation and players leaving early to the professional ranks, but his 2009-10 squad was ranked as high as sixth in both national polls, and finished second in the CCHA regular-season standings. The current team was ranked as high as 11th in the national polls this season.
“A thorough national search will begin immediately to identify Coach Comley’s successor as the head coach of the Michigan State hockey program,” said Hollis. “Hockey is important to our athletic department and our campus community, as well as to our fans. It is a program with a long and storied tradition. However, what is also important is to support the coaches and our hockey student-athletes for the remainder of this season.”
Comley arrived at MSU after spending 26 years (1976-2002) as the head coach at Northern Michigan. The first head coach in NMU hockey history, he compiled a 538-429-68 (.533) mark behind the Wildcat bench to become one of just 12 coaches to win 450 games at one school and one of 10 to post 500 victories at the same institution.
The Stratford, Ont., native guided Northern Michigan to CCHA regular-season championships and league postseason titles in 1980 and 1981. Comley also piloted the Wildcats to the WCHA regular-season crown in 1991 and WCHA playoff championships in 1989, 1991 and 1992. He is one of three individuals to have coached regular-season champions in the WCHA and CCHA, joining Bill Selman (North Dakota 1967 and St. Louis 1973, 1975 and 1977) and former MSU assistant coach George Gwozdecky (Miami 1993 and Denver 2002, 2005) on that exclusive list.
Prior to his MSU tenure, Comley’s greatest team was the 1990-91 Northern Michigan unit which captured the WCHA regular-season and playoff championships and capped the year by winning the NCAA title. The Wildcats posted a 38-5-4 overall record and a 25-3-4 mark in conference play, concluding the season with a thrilling 8-7 come-from-behind victory over Boston University in triple overtime in the national championship game in St. Paul, Minn. NMU finished the season with a school record 26-game unbeaten streak.
Prior to the 1990-91 season, Comley’s top team was the 1979-80 squad which rolled to a 34-6-1 overall record and a 17-3-0 first-place standing in the CCHA. The Wildcats would go on to win the conference playoff crown and advance to the NCAA championship game before falling to North Dakota, 5-2, in the title match. In addition to national postseason appearances in 1980 and 1991, Comley took Northern Michigan teams to the NCAA Tournament on five other occasions - 1980-81, 1988-89, 1991-92, 1992-93 and 1998-99.
Comley has been presented the Spencer Penrose Memorial Award as college hockey’s national coach of the year in 1980 and 1991. He was named CCHA Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1981, and was honored as WCHA Coach of the Year in 1989 and 1991. He also served as coach for the West team at the 1981 Senior East-West All-Star Game.
In addition to serving as NMU hockey coach, Comley spent 13 years as the school’s athletics director from 1987-2000. During his tenure as AD, Northern Michigan constructed the $21-million Superior Dome, which has a capacity of 8,000 for the football team, the $12-million Berry Events Center, home of the hockey and men’s and women’s basketball programs, and the Tom Izzo-Steve Mariucci Academic Center.
The school’s 13-sport program also enjoyed widespread success under Comley’s leadership. The football program produced 10 winning seasons and advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals in 1987. The women’s volleyball team won seven GLIAC titles and won NCAA Division II national championships in 1993 and 1994. The NMU women’s basketball squad won two GLIAC championships, made 10 trips to the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Regional Tournament, won two regional championships and made one Elite Eight appearance. The men’s basketball program won two GLIAC championships and made three visits to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The women’s swimming team won five GLIAC titles, including four in a row, and the men’s and women’s Nordic skiing teams competed on the national level with several student-athletes chosen for national squads that competed in Europe.
Comley began his coaching career at his alma mater, Lake Superior State, where he served as Mason’s varsity assistant and recruiter during the 1972-73 season. He was named the school’s head coach the following year after Mason’s departure to Bowling Green and guided the Lakers to a 59-46-3 mark from 1973-76, winning an NAIA national championship and a CCHA regular-season title in 1974.
A four-year letterwinner (1967-71) for Mason at Lake Superior State, Comley was a two-time NAIA All-American and served as team captain as a senior in 1971. He was voted the team’s most valuable player and won Lake Superior State’s Outstanding Athlete Award in 1971.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Lake Superior State in 1972 and a master’s degree in education from Northern Michigan in 1973. He was an honor student at Lake Superior, receiving the 1971 Kiwanis Scholastic Award in the School of Liberal Arts. He was inducted into the LSSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996 and into Northern Michigan’s in 1998.
Comley has been also been active in the community. He serves as the honorary chairman of the American Lung Association Asthma Walk and has also done so for the American Red Cross blood drive. He has also been part of the Coaches For Kids campaign, which raised money to build a pediatric emergency room at Sparrow Hospital.
The Comley file ...
Head Coaching Records:
• Lake Superior State: 59-46-3 (.560)
• Northern Michigan: 538-429-68 (.553)
• Michigan State: 181-133-39 (.568) (through Jan. 22)
• Overall Coaching Record: 778-608-110 (.557) (through Jan. 22)
Coaching Honors and Awards:
• Spencer Penrose Memorial Trophy (1980, 1991)
• CCHA Coach of the Year (1980, 1981)
• WCHA Coach of the Year (1989, 1991)
• NAIA National Championship in 1974 (LSSU)
• NCAA titles in 1991 (NMU) and 2007 (MSU)
Photo by Matt Mackinder/MiCHO