Rick Comley, the head coach of Michigan State's hockey team, will retire at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season. Comley has been MSU's head coach since taking over for Ron Mason in 2002, and he has accumulated a record of 181-133-39 in nine seasons in East Lansing. Comley won a national championship with the Spartans in 2007, and over the course of his 38-year coaching career he holds a record of 778-608-110.
Comley had this to say about his decision to retire in a statement released by MSU:
"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."
Although Comley did lead MSU to a national title just four years ago, a number of Spartan fans have wanted athletic director Mark Hollis to make a change with the hockey program the last couple years. Comley has enjoyed a lot of success during his career, but lately the Spartans have been struggling quite a bit. In 2008-09, for example, MSU finished second-to-last in the CCHA and had an overall record of 10-23-5. Last year, MSU rebounded to finish second in the CCHA during the regular season, but they struggled down the stretch and were swept at home by Michigan in the CCHA playoffs. So far this season, MSU is once again in second-to-last place in the CCHA and has an overall record of 10-12-4.
Michigan State has 10 regular season games left and then at least two games in the CCHA playoffs. Unless the Spartans go on a monster run to end the season (much like Michigan did last year), Comley's tenure at Michigan State will not end with an NCAA tournament appearance. While another early end to the season would be less than desired, it would at the very least give Hollis the opportunity to name a coach very early on in the offseason if he wants to.
"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."
It will be interesting to see who Hollis hires. One name I would keep an eye on is former MSU player Danton Cole. He is currently the head coach of the USA Hockey NTDP in Ann Arbor. Before that he was the head coach of Alabama-Huntsville and led them to an NCAA tournament in 2010. He knows MSU well and knows the area and seems like a good fit for the program, so I'd keep my eye on him once Hollis' search gets underway.