ANN ARBOR MI - DECEMBER 11: Head coach Rick Comley of the Michigan State Spartans heads to the bench prior to playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on December 11 2010 in Ann Arbor Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, Mich. - 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 (Tuesday, Jan. 25) 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." [ . . . ]
"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."
The news is unexpected, as this past November Comley was given a contract extension through 2014. Comley's Spartans won the national championship in 2007, but aside from that golden moment, his tenure has been marked by inconsistency and fits of mediocrity -- including this season, as the Spartans are only ahead of Bowling Green in the CCHA, and will certainly miss the NCAA Tournament. After the Spartans' putrid performance in the outdoor game against Michigan in December, I called for Comley's departure -- but I'm rather stunned that it's actually happening.
We should hear more from the athletic department shortly, and we'll post more details as they become available. As for potential replacements: the obvious dream candidate is Notre Dame's, who is a Michigan State alumnus, won two national championships with Lake Superior State in the early 90s, and in recent years has turned Notre Dame into a national powerhouse. However, the Irish have invested substantially in the program, and MSU -- which at this point is a rebuilding job -- may not look attractive by comparison. Either way, there will be plenty of good candidates attracted by MSU's tradition and resources.