NCAA drought at 10 years, Michigan State fires hockey coach Danton Cole

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Michigan State hockey is searching for a new head coach.

In his first major move as athletic director, Alan Haller announced Tuesday that Danton Cole is out. Cole was head coach for five seasons, with a record off 58-101-12. 

"Over the last month, I spent time evaluating where we currently stand as a hockey program. It's become clear to me that it's in the best interests of the program to make a change in leadership and begin a new era of Spartan hockey," Haller said in a statement Tuesday. "Danton Cole is a Spartan alum who put his heart into this job and we appreciate his efforts and dedication.

"I believe a fresh start is what the program needs most. We have a proud championship history and a passionate alumni group.

"With a renovated Munn Ice Arena opening this fall and a renewed commitment to the success of the program, great things are on the horizon for Spartan hockey." 

Danton Cole is out as Michigan State's hockey coach.

In 2019, Michigan State launched a $26.2 million renovation project to Munn; the project was paused during the pandemic but restarted last year and is set to be unveiled later this year.

Cole, 55, a Pontiac native and Michigan State alum, was an acclaimed hire when then-athletic director Mark Hollis tapped him in April 2017 from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. He also had previously been head coach of Alabama-Huntsville (2007-10), the Motor City Mechanics (2004-06), the Grand Rapids Griffins (2002-05) and the Muskegon Fury (2001-02). 

But five years and a day after MSU hired him, Cole is out after not making the NCAA Tournament in five seasons. Michigan State made the NCAA Tournament all but four years from 1982 to 2008 — with eight Frozen Fours and two national championships, in 1986 and 2007 — but hasn't qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2012.

The 10-year NCAA drought is the second-longest in program history since the NCAA Tournament started in 1948. The longest drought was from 1968-81.

As a player, Cole was a part of the 1986 championship team and three Frozen Four teams (1986, '87 and '89), and is tied for the program's lead in games played with 180. He had 69 goals and 94 assists.

His first year as head coach, replacing Tom Anastos, was a rough one, at 12-22-2, and the Spartans never got on track during his tenure. In five Big Ten tournaments under Cole, Michigan State never got past the quarterfinals, while the chief rival program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, made two Frozen Fours, including this year. Michigan State never had a winning record with Cole as coach, and only once, in 2019-20, finished .500 in Big Ten Conference play (11-11-2).

This season, Michigan State started 11-8-1, but then lost 13 straight and 15 of its last 16 games.

“Where I envision this program being is not where we're at right now,” Cole told reporters in January.

Cole didn't immediately return a message from The News seeking comment Tuesday.

Cole's contract with Michigan State was a five-year rollover deal, with an extra year being added automatically at the end of each season unless university officials notified him in writing of a change. It's not known if university officials sent him such notice, but it's certain he received at least one additional year on the deal, meaning his contract is being terminated early. His base salary was $300,000.

The status of Cole's assistant coaches wasn't announced Tuesday, and it's unclear if any will be candidates for the head-coaching job. Last month, Joe Exter, goalies coach and recruiting coordinator, was told his contract wouldn't be renewed.

Cole's firing comes barely two weeks after Michigan State announced the addition of two key forward recruits from the state of Minnesota — freshman Gavin Best and graduate transfer Justin Jallen (Brown). They filled out a five-player recruiting class for 2022-23.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984