Rick Comley is Back with the 'Cats
Twenty years after leaving NMU for an opportunity to lead the Michigan State University hockey program, Rick Comley ’73 MAE is back.
Comley, the longtime Wildcat hockey coach and athletic director, has agreed to serve as AD for the next two years following the departure of Forrest Karr, who resigned in August to take the same role at Minnesota-Duluth.
“We are thrilled that a person of Rick’s qualifications for this position is available to return to campus and guide our Wildcat Athletics Department, National Training Site programs and recreational sports services,” NMU President Kerri Schuiling ’73 BSN said.
“Having someone who understands NCAA requirements from both the AD and coaching perspectives is a tremendous benefit.”
Comley was the head hockey coach at NMU during the first 26 years of the program’s existence—1976 to 2002. He concurrently served as AD from 1987 to 2000, a period that featured a national championship in hockey (1991), two national titles in volleyball (1993 and 1994) and construction of the Superior Dome and Berry Events Center.
In nine years at Michigan State, Comley added a second NCAA title to his resume, in 2007. His 783 coaching victories rank fifth all time, and he is one of only three coaches to win national championships at two schools.
After leaving East Lansing, Comley worked as a scout for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. In his 10 years in Chicago, the team won a pair of Stanley Cups.
Comley retired in 2021 and moved back to Marquette with his wife, Diane. But, by his own admission, “I don’t think I’m a good retirement person.... I would say I was very mediocre at it.”
So when he was approached about the AD job—initially on an interim basis—he jumped at the opportunity.
"It didn't take a lot of thought," he said. "After about 10 seconds I said yes. It's a perfect scenario to come back in."
As Comley reacquaints himself with the role and gets to know the department’s personnel, it’s clear he is not a mere figurehead keeping the seat warm for the next athletic director. His two-year appointment does give newly hired President Brock Tessman some time to settle into his position before having to find a new AD, but Comley has also been tasked with significant priorities in the meantime.
Major items on his to-do list involve facilities. The Berry Events Center’s ice plant needs to be replaced, and that job will begin at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season. In that process, the rink’s ice surface will be shrunk from its Olympic-size dimensions. They are also assessing the feasibility of moving the NMU basketball teams from the Berry to Vandament Arena. The projected capacity would be 1,500 to 1,900 seats.
“I would want rollout individual seats. It won’t look like a high school gym. You have to really be able to project the fact that it’s a legitimate national-contending Division II sport. And these coaches do want this.”
A priority this season is also addressing immediate and necessary infrastructure needs at the athletics weight room in the Superior Dome, which currently prevents its use, or relocating the facility. Outdated strength and conditioning equipment must also be upgraded. The Wildcat Athletics Strength and Conditioning Fund has been established to support these efforts. "With the proper weights and proper training methods, this will help every sport," Comley added.
Comley is also applying the experience gained in a 38-year head-coaching career to help the individual Wildcat teams build for success. He meets with NMU’s head coaches on a biweekly basis to talk about every aspect of their teams: “I told them, 'You have to tell me everything you’re concerned about. Tell me your pluses. Tell me your negatives. Tell me your goals. Tell me your wishes. I can’t promise I can meet them all, but I assure you that we will discuss them. Because if I don’t know them, I can’t help.’"
“I’ve got certain beliefs on how a program should be run. I believe in accountability. I believe in doing things the right way. I believe if you really put your time in and do it properly, you’ll be successful.”
And what does success look like in Comley’s eyes?
“Like I told the whole department,” he said, “Our number one goal is to beat Michigan Tech in every sport. If we can accomplish that, we will have credibility again. I put it that way because they have done a great job and deserve a tremendous amount of respect. But you must beat your neighbors.”
—By Michael Murray '98 BS, '10 MA