After 13 years as both athletic director and head hockey coach for Northern Michigan University, Rick Comley will dispense with the AD role effective July 1 and concentrate on running the Division I hockey program he established at Northern in 1976.
Comley and NMU President Judi Bailey announced the change at a press conference Thursday morning.
“This is what I want to do. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but the truth is, holding down both jobs has become too much for one person,” Comley said. “It’s time to return to coaching and do the best job I can with the sport I love most.”
Comley said that during his tenure as AD, there has been continual growth in regulations and reporting requirements instituted by government agencies, the NCAA and the athletic conferences with which Northern is affiliated.
His term was punctuated by extensive efforts to ensure compliance with Title IX, the law calling for gender equity in intercollegiate athletics, as well as the planning and construction of the Superior Dome, Berry Events Center and Izzo-Mariucci Academic Center.
“Add the obligation to serve on national committees and the inescapable management, planning, supervision and problem-solving responsibilities, and there’s simply too little time for coaching,” said Comley.
Progress during his term would have been impossible, Comley said, had it not been for the support of past and present colleagues. He particularly cited the work of NMU retirees Barb Patrick (assistant AD) and Tom Peters (assistant to the president).
“Barb was instrumental in elevating women’s sports to a proper place of prominence. It’s been a great pleasure witnessing the growth of community respect for all of our women’s squads.”
“Rick Comley has made an outstanding contribution as athletic director,” Bailey said. “Northern is definitely a better place today because Rick excelled in the job.”
A national search for a full-time athletic director will begin immediately, said Bailey. The AD is responsible for eight women’s and five men’s sports involving 250 student-athletes and 37 coaches and support staff.
During Comley’s AD tenure, Northern won national championships in hockey (1991) and volleyball (1993 and 1994). He is the only head coach in the 24-year history of NMU hockey and has compiled a 553-451-62 career record.
Comley is a two-time winner of the Spencer Penrose Memorial Trophy as college hockey’s national coach of the year (1980 and 1991) and has twice been named CCHA Coach of the Year (1979-80 and 1980-81) and WCHA Coach of the Year (1988-89 and 1990-91).
The Stratford, Ont., native played hockey at Lake Superior State University and coached at his alma mater for three years before coming to NMU.