Wildcat security: Northern Michigan University re-inks head coach Grant Potulny to 8-year deal with big raise

Northern Michigan University head hockey coach Grant Potulny

“We definitely feel the emotion in the community and the passion that is back for our hockey program.” — Grant Potulny, head coach, NMU hockey


MARQUETTE — For the past several weeks, there has been plenty of uncertainty about the head coaching situation in the Northern Michigan University hockey program.

Now it appears that those questions have been answered and Wildcats fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

On Wednesday, Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny signed a new eight-year contract at $285,000 per year to remain as NMU’s bench boss. The contract lasts through June 2026 as it provides a significant raise from Potulny’s previous five-year deal at $196,100 per season.

Northern Michigan University’s Philip Beaulieu, left, and Bowling Green State’s Alec Rauhauser race after the puck during Game 2 of a WCHA playoffs semifinal series on March 10 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. The Wildcats won a pair of playoff series in the 2017-18 season, just one of several feats accomplished by the team for the first time in a number of years, the first season under head coach Grant Potulny. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

When asked what it felt like inking his new deal, Potulny was happy to be locked in for the foreseeable future.

“It feels outstanding,” he said. “I’d like to thank (NMU President) Dr. (Fritz) Erickson and athletic director (Forrest) Karr for their trust in our coaching staff in leading this program for the future. The commitment they’ve made to our hockey program and our staff is outstanding. It’s going to help catapult the future success of our program.”

Karr was also happy to lock Potulny into a long-term deal and is committed to do his part in putting a quality program on the ice at the Berry Events Center.

“We are constantly striving to be among the nation’s elite programs,” Karr said. “I believe in our coaching staff and this agreement is another reflection of Northern’s commitment to continued success.”

Two weeks ago, the University of Minnesota, Potulny’s alma mater, announced a coaching change as longtime head coach Don Lucia resigned. Potulny had served as an assistant coach under Lucia for eight years and was considered by many to be a strong candidate for the job opening.

But on Tuesday, the Golden Gophers instead chose another former Minnesota assistant, St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, for the position.

That gave Northern an opportunity to sign Potulny to a longer deal.

Potulny said he appreciates the large amount of support that he’s received from the community and hopes to reward the fans next season.

“The support that the community has given to our hockey program and my family has been outstanding,” he said. “We definitely feel the emotion in the community and the passion that is back for our hockey program. We look forward to continuing building on that and just like our players got a taste of the success, we hope to give our fans more of a taste of it next year.”

Potulny also has bonuses that could boost the pay in his new contract. If he leads the Wildcats to a national championship, Potulny would make an additional $20,000, while a Frozen Four appearance will land him $15,000. If NMU makes an NCAA regional final, he would make another $10,000 and an NCAA Tournament bid would give him $7,500.

If Northern wins the WCHA playoff championship and the Jeff Sauer Trophy or the WCHA regular-season title and the MacNaughton Cup, Potulny would land an additional $5,000. A WCHA Coach of the Year award gives Potulny another $2,500, as would a top-four regular-season finish and a home playoff series, and a team overall grade-point average of 3.25 or greater. He did win the Coach of the Year and the team a top-four position in the season just completed.

In total, the potential bonuses could add up to $70,000 in any given season.

Potulny feels that he has a great team returning next year and that his team is just itching for next season to begin.

“I think we have a very good team coming back,” he said. “Going into the year, I think we have as much returning as anybody in our league. The challenge now is now you’ve tasted a little bit of success, and to push over the top is the hardest journey. And we’re close and I see the hunger and determination in our players’ eyes.

“When we train all summer and prepare to come back in the fall, I know the guys will be in great shape and ready to compete for all those championships that we just missed this year.

“Hopefully, we can start a little bit quicker out of the gates than we did last year. That was to be expected, I think, with the new coaching staff and new philosophies and new terminologies. We had a tough travel schedule the first half of the year.

“I think this year everybody knows what to expect, players and coaches. The hope is we can start out the year in the same fashion that the second half of the year brought for us and we don’t need two or three months to really start separating ourselves from the field.”

Also stipulated in the contract is a contract termination or buyout clause. For example, if Potulny were to sign a contract with a new team, he and presumably his new squad would have to pay NMU $250,000. With each following season, the buyout would drop $50,000. The clause lasts for five years until June 2023 with the final buyout being $50,000. The university can also choose to terminate Potulny’s contract of its own accord for cause.

Potulny said that both he and his team are committed to being Wildcats, though, and that they are already wanting to play in front of the type of roaring crowd that was present during the WCHA Championship a few weeks ago.

“I know in my player meetings, we’ve had individual meetings the last couple of days, and they all want to start right now. Part of that is obviously the success that we did have on the ice, but a big part of that is when you come out on a rink and there’s 4,200 fans standing and waving towels and cheering you on, you can’t wait to get out and perform for them again. I know that drives our team and that will drive our coaches.

“Not only do the players need to continue to get better, but the coaches, we need to continue to get better. That’s our obligation, to also raise the bar and continue to grow as coaches.”

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