Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Comley Stepping Down at State

Have been sick for a while (damn recurring sinus infection), so just catching up on some things ...

Sorry to see that Rick Comley has announced his retirement at Michigan State, which came last month and will be effective at the end of this season. Comley, who started the program at Northern Michigan from scratch and won a national title there in 1991, moved over to MSU in 2002 and won another NCAA championship there five years later. He's also notched 780 wins in 38 seasons at the college level, and even won an NAIA national title during his three years at the helm of his alma mater, Lake Superior State.

Comley was hand-picked by college legend and former mentor Ron Mason to succeed him at MSU nine years ago when Mason stepped off the bench to become athletic director. Despite three 20-win seasons in his first three campaigns in East Lansing, the Spartans only played in one NCAA Tournament game, where they fell to Minnesota-Duluth.

Things got better in his fourth year, when MSU won the CCHA Championship over Miami at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and then advanced to the NCAA East Regional in Albany where they edged UNH and just came up short against Maine with a Frozen Four berth at stake. The lessons learned during that run were obviously applied the next year, even if the Spartans needed an at-large berth to qualify for the NCAAs. They dispatched both Boston University and Notre Dame at Van Andel Arena in West Michigan, and then topped both Maine and Boston College at the Scottrade Center in Missouri to claim the national crown (and maybe also the Beanpot and the Hockey East title, I'm not entirely sure.)

Comley has always been a class act and has always been very gracious when I've been able to talk to him, whether it was as bench boss of the Spartans, or chairman of the NCAA Division I Hockey Committee in the mid-1990s. That was when I worked at MSU in the sports information department, and State hosted the 1996 West Regional at Munn Arena, back when on-campus sites were still utilized. I can still hear him chastising a Providence player to get off the ice until the clock had counted down to the exact start of the Friars' practice session. He wasn't kidding, either, just being by-the-book.

There's been rumblings amongst some of the Spartan faithful since the 2007 NCAA championship game win over BC, as MSU hasn't been as successful since then as most of its die-hard followers would like. State hasn't made the NCAAs since 2008, and hasn't won a CCHA title since two years before that; but to be fair, a number of key players have jumped early to the pros every season since State hoisted the national title trophy in St. Louis almost four springs ago.

Is Comley being forced out? Was it a mutual decision with MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis to retire? It's all speculation, but personally I'm hoping it was all Comley's decision to step down. He's given enough to the game, and for long enough, that it would be fitting for him to choose his own time to call it quits.

That time is almost here, depending upon what his Spartans do the rest of the way. I wish him well in whatever he decides to do next.

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