Back at the helm: Former hockey coach and athletic director Rick Comley returns as interim AD at NMU, Julie Rochester now senior adviser for athletics

Northern Michigan University hockey coach and athletic director Rick Comley, center, listens as NMU alumnus John Berry, Jr., addresses an audience at a ceremonial groundbreaking in May 1998 for the university’s $11 million events center named the Berry Events Center when it opened in 1999. In front at left is Shirley Berry, John’s wife, and in back, partially hidden at left, is Ellwood Mattson, chairman of the NMU Board of Control, and Jim Pinar, NMU sports information director. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — This is not only a blast from the past, but a blast from the best of the past for Northern Michigan University.

Former university hockey coach Rick Comley, the first coach of the program who spent more than a quarter century in the job, is returning to the Wildcats as interim athletic director starting Monday, NMU President Kerri Schuiling announced to the university coaching staff on Friday.

The news and details about it were released in an email from university spokesman Derek Hall on Friday afternoon.

Comley’s hiring was prompted by the departure of current Northern AD Forrest Karr for Minnesota-Duluth that was announced Monday.

While Comley’s job as hockey coach was his most high-profile duty, some may forget that he also served as AD during the latter part of his tenure as hockey coach, for 13 years from 1987 to 2000.

Former Northern Michigan University hockey coach Rick Comley was honored with the rink bearing his name at NMU's Berry Events Center in October 2017. At a home game that month against Lake Superior State University, a video was shown honoring Comley and his achievements through the years, and participated in a ceremonial puck drop. From left, Comley addresses the crowd while observing are NMU President Fritz Erickson, NMU current hockey coach Grant Potulmy and LSSU coach Damon Whitten. (Journal file photo)

In his fourth year as dual hockey coach and AD in March 1991, Comley led the Wildcats to the NCAA Division I hockey championship after a crazy 8-7 triple-overtime victory over Boston University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“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 while we search for our next permanent AD,” Schuiling said. “Having someone who understands NCAA requirements from both the AD and coaching perspectives is a tremendous benefit. The fact that he’s also an alumnus who is a huge Wildcat fan is an added bonus.”

As part of the announcement about Comley, Schuiling said that NMU longtime and current NCAA faculty representative Julie Rochester has agreed to become the senior adviser for athletics for this upcoming academic year, which should provide additional support in several athletic areas, especially those related to NCAA compliance.

Schuiling added that a national search for a permanent athletic director will soon begin. She also said that a full transition team consisting of athletic and nonathletic staff members is being developed to assist during the transition period until a permanent AD is named.

Comley, who also coached Michigan State University to a national championship in 2007, led Wildcats hockey for 26 seasons beginning in 1976, when the program was inaugurated, until 2002. He compiled a 538-429-68 record at NMU. Current head coach Grant Potulny, who is about to start his sixth season at NMU this fall, is only the third coach in the program’s history.

Combined with his tenure at Lake Superior State from 1973-76 and at MSU from 2002-11, Comley’s 38-year coaching mark is 783-615-110, ranking fifth on the D-I coaching wins list.

During Comley’s initial tenure as AD, the Wildcats also won back-to-back NCAA Division II championships in volleyball in 1993 and 1994 under different coaches — Jim Moore in ’93 and Mark Rosen in ’94.

The university noted in Friday’s release that Comley’s original term as AD was punctuated by extensive efforts to ensure compliance with Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equity in all university activities, including intercollegiate athletics.

In a 2012 NMU interview with Moore, he noted Comley’s importance to women’s athletics at Northern in the 1990s.

“Another major key for our success was Rick Comley,” Moore said about his NMU volleyball program. “It was unbelievable leadership from him as the athletic director. Hockey had just won the 1991 national championship and at the same time, the (federal) Office of Civil Rights came and did a random selection of schools to do a complete Title IX review and we were somehow selected.

“Rick embraced the review and Title IX. It would have been difficult as the coach of a prominent sport like hockey, but he knew how important it was.

“He took money from the hockey program and gave it to my program and to other women’s programs, and that is something that wasn’t happening from very many athletic directors.”

Coincidentally, the Wildcats are playing D-I Central Michigan in an exhibition volleyball match today on Mackinac Island in part to highlight this year’s 50th anniversary of Title IX that was enacted in 1972.

Comley also led NMU athletics during the planning and construction stages of the Superior Dome, Berry Events Center and Izzo-Mariucci Academic Center. The BEC rink is named in his honor.

Comley, 75, was the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation’s 2020 Legend of College Hockey recipient. He earned a master’s degree in education from NMU in 1973 after completing his bachelor’s degree in political science from LSSU. He was inducted into the NMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

Rochester, the new senior adviser for athletics, is a professor and director of the athletic training education program at Northern.

She has been the university’s NCAA faculty athletics representative and chair of the NMU Athletic Council since 2007. She has also served as a member of the NCAA Division II Committee on Infractions and is currently serving her fifth year on the NCAA Division II Management Council as an at-large representative. She is also a member of the NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards & Medical Aspects of Sports and a member of the NCAA’s Drug Testing Appeals subcommittee.

Rochester has a doctorate in education from the University of Phoenix and a master’s degree in exercise science from NMU. She began her career at NMU as an athletic trainer (1990-97) in the Intercollegiate Athletic Department when Comley was AD.

“Julie already does so much for Wildcat Athletics each year, and we are incredibly grateful that she has stepped up to take on this additional assignment as the department goes through a transition period,” Schuiling said.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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