Walt Kyle is out at NMU

Longtime Wildcats hockey coach contract not renewed

MARQUETTE — A long coaching era has come to an end at Northern Michigan University.

On Friday afternoon, the NMU athletic department announced that head hockey coach Walt Kyle would not be returning to the helm next season and that the search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Kyle has been the Wildcats bench boss for the past 15 years and had signed a 2-year extension after the 2014-15 season. He is only the second head coach in the history of the program.

In a press release, NMU athletic director Forrest Karr thanked Kyle for the time he put in with the program.

“Walt has played a major role in the most significant moments in Northern Michigan hockey history,” he said. “I enjoyed working with him, and I am thankful that he always supported every program in the department. I appreciate his work and dedication to the hockey program and wish him well in all future endeavors.”

In an in-person interview later Friday, Karr said that the decision to not renew Kyle’s contract was made Monday and that the coach was informed the next day.

“After evaluating the year, we felt it was in the best interest of the program to go in a different direction,” Karr said.

Karr also said that Kyle’s contract, which expires on June 30 will be honored and that the team will be informed of the decision on Monday.

During a phone conversation shortly after the news broke, Kyle issued a statement to the Journal about his contract not being renewed.

“I think that anyone who knows me knows that I’m not going to harbor any bitterness toward the university on this,” Kyle said. “I look back at my career in retrospect and I’m really grateful and thankful. I was fortunate enough to coach at the university I love, and a hockey program that I love that I played in and cut my teeth to be a coach in, and I was able to do it in what I think is the greatest community in the world filled with the greatest people in the world. I’m blessed to have had coached all the guys that I’ve coached and worked with all of the people that I’ve worked with. I’m just real thankful to have those opportunities in my career.”

Kyle was hired in June of 2002 to replace NMU’s only previous head coach, Rick Comley. Kyle had played for the Wildcats for two seasons after transferring to Northern from Boston College. He was a member of the 1980 and 1981 Frozen Four squads and was an assistant coach under Comley during the Wildcats’ national championship season in 1991.

During his time as head coach at Northern, Kyle had a record of 265-263-68 and he took the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament back in 2010. NMU finished this past season with a record of 13-22-4 and an eighth-place finish in the WCHA. After a terrible start to the season, the Wildcats made an impressive run during the second half to earn a postseason bid, which included five straight shutouts. However, NMU fell during the first round of the playoffs in a best-of-3 first round series to Bemidji State.

As far as the future goes, Karr said that the job opening will be posted on Monday and that although the school is aware of some strong potential candidates, there is no frontrunner. He also said that both of Kyle’s assistant coaches, John Kyle and Rob Lehtinen, are eligible to apply.

“I spoke with John and Rob this morning and they will both have the opportunity to apply,” Karr said. “If they choose not to apply, or if they apply and are not selected, they will also have the opportunity to interview with the new head coach.”

Karr said that searches for coaches typically take around five weeks and that there will be a committee involved that includes Comley, a current student-athlete, former student-athletes and community members.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.