One of the longest tenured head coaches at the Academy, Rob Riley carries on a tradition that has defined the history of ice hockey at West Point for over half a century.
Riley enters his 18th season as mentor to the school's icemen poised to achieve yet another milestone in his illustrious career behind the Black Knights' bench. Standing 12th on the NCAA's all-time active wins list, he enters the 2003-04 season six victories shy of No. 300 in his 19-year career. His .508 winning percentage is 25th among active mentors on the all-time charts.
The Riley name has become synonymous with Army hockey since the 1950s when legendary football coach and athletic director, Earl "Red" Blaik, hired Riley's father, Jack, to head the program in the winter of 1951. The fiery ex-Olympian held that position until the fall of 1986 when he handed over control of the team to his son after racking up 542 career wins in 36 years.
Rob Riley has emerged from under the shadow left by his Hall of Fame father and has carved his own niche into the Army hockey annals. The upcoming season, the 101st along the banks of the Hudson, marks the 54th campaign that a Riley will stand behind the Black Knights' bench.
Riley is part of a family that has produced three Division I head coaches who have all been very successful. Seventeen years after his retirement, Jack Riley is still ninth on the NCAA's all-time wins list. Bill Riley, cousin to Rob, sits 27th on the same list with 376 victories while at Lehigh and UMass-Lowell from 1968 to 1991.
Rob and Jack Riley are the winningest father-son tandem ever to coach college hockey. Together, they have racked up 836 victories, building the Black Knights into one of the winningest programs in NCAA history. Add in cousin Bill's 376 wins at Lehigh and UMass-Lowell, and the Riley clan has accounted for 1,212 wins.
Riley inherited a program that competed in the ECAC, known as one of college hockey's "Big Four" conferences, and has navigated the fortunes of Army hockey through its independent status in the early to mid 1990s, to membership in three more conferences.
The Black Knights will compete in the newly formed Atlantic Hockey this winter, after the nine members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference agreed to separate themselves from the multi-sport conference and form their own "hockey only" league. Army has also owned membership in College Hockey America (1999-2000).
In his coaching career, Riley has authored an impressive resume while molding young cadets into leaders of character for the U.S. Army. Last winter, the former Boston College team captain guided his charges to an 18-16-0 record.
Four years ago, Riley picked up his 200th win at Army and his 250th overall. During the 2001-02 campaign, he became just the second coach in Black Knights history to coach in 500 games - second only to his father Jack - reaching that milestone on Jan. 25 at AIC.
During the 1991-92 season, Riley secured his 100th career victory with a 6-2 win over rival American International College on Nov. 8.
In addition to those monumental feats, Riley guided the Black Knights to back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96, while fashioning five straight non-losing seasons during that span. It marked the first time since his father was head coach that five straight Army teams forged records of .500 or better. His 18 years of service to West Point is the second longest active administration among head coaches. Only lacrosse coach Jack Emmer has been in charge of his program at the Academy longer than Riley. Only seven other current mentors in college hockey have been at their institution longer than Riley.
After leading his team back into the conference fray as part of College Hockey America four years ago, Riley moved the Black Knights into the more geographically compatible MAAC in 2000-01. That is where Army spent the last three campaigns until both Fairfield and Iona dropped their hockey programs at the end of last season and the Black Knights realigned with the other eight remaining schools to form Atlantic Hockey.
With the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament still intact, Army's postseason possibilities remain as strong as ever. Under Riley's tutelege, the Black Knights of the Hudson have qualified for the playoffs in each of the last three seasons - the longest consecutive streak in Army history since it qualified five straight years from 1974-78.
Riley guided the Black Knights into the MAAC postseason tournament in each of the team's three years in the league. Last year, the 17-year mentor also saw four of his charges rank nationally in seven different categories and the Black Knights rank in the Top 15 in three categories as a team.
Behind strong recruiting classes in recent years, Riley and his coaching staff have built Army into a top contender in Atlantic Hockey as the Black Knights search for their first conference championship.
Sellout crowds and conference attendance records have become the norm for Riley-coached hockey squads at the Academy. Army set a MAAC attendance record its first year in the league and improved upon that total in each of the next two years. In addition, Riley has carved out a winning season at Tate Rink in each of the last 12 campaigns, dating back to 1991-92.
Having grown up at the U.S. Military Academy, Riley understands all that is encompassed in the "West Point experience." His teams traditionally rank among the Academy's top squads in grade-point average. In addition, Riley's players also rank among the top cadets in military and physical training.
Riley has also been instrumental in overseeing Army's recent dominance over arch-rival Royal Military College of Canada. In 17 outings against his counterparts from north of the border, Riley has guided Army to 12 wins and two ties in authoring a 12-3-2 (.765) record. During the 1990s, Riley and the Black Knights never lost to the Paladins, scribing a 8-0-2 against their rivals to the north.
The 7-3 triumph on Feb. 8, 1997, proved especially sweet for Riley as it marked his 200th career win behind the bench. Entering this season, the Black Knights hold a comfortable 37-29-6 edge in the series.
For 13 of Riley's 17 years at West Point, he has had younger brother Brian at his side as his top assistant. The two are currently the only brothers coaching together at the same institution in college hockey.
A 1978 graduate of Boston College, Riley captained the 1977-78 Eagles to a 24-10 record and a trip to the national championship game against cross-city rival Boston University. Despite falling to the Terriers in that contest, the Eagles boasted an ECAC title and tied the school's single-season record for victories.
Upon graduation, Riley remained at his alma mater for two seasons as an assistant to the varsity and head junior varsity coach. He then moved on to St. Lawrence University as the top assistant to then head coach Mike McShane. During Riley's three seasons in Canton, N.Y., the Saints evolved from a last-place team in the ECAC to an NCAA quarterfinalist in 1982-83.
Riley's first head coaching position came in 1983-84, when he accepted the top spot at Babson College in Massachusetts. That first year was a magical one for Riley as he became the youngest coach ever to lead a team to the NCAA Division III National Championship. The Beavers defeated Union 8-0 in the title contest, capping a stellar 27-5-1 campaign as the squad set a school record for wins.
In 1984-85, Riley turned in a 22-9 record at Babson and was named NCAA college division coach of the year. Following that season, Riley returned to West Point to assist his father.
Riley has also made a name for himself on the national and international hockey scene. He was an assistant coach for the U.S. teams that participated in the World University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1989, and Sapporo, Japan, in 1991. Most recently, Riley was an assistant coach for the East Squad at the 1995 U.S. Olympic Festival.
The long-time mentor of Army's hockey fortunes has also directed numerous summer camps at West Point during his 18-year coaching career. Riley has helped more than 9,000 youth hockey players develop their skills and improve their game.
Riley and his wife Deb live at West Point with daughter Sarah, 15, and son Brett, 12.
Head Coaching Record
Year Team W L T Pct.
1983-84 Babson 27 5 1 .833
1984-85 Babson 22 9 0 .710
Babson (2 yrs.) 49 14 1 .773
1986-87 Army 9 19 1 .328
1987-88 Army 9 19 2 .333
1988-89 Army 13 16 1 .450
1989-90 Army 10 16 4 .400
1990-91 Army 8 18 3 .328
1991-92 Army 13 17 1 .435
1992-93 Army 16 11 1 .589
1993-94 Army 14 16 0 .467
1994-95 Army 20 13 1 .603
1995-96 Army 24 9 1 .721
1996-97 Army 19 13 2 .588
1997-98 Army 18 15 1 .544
1998-99 Army 16 16 3 .500
1999-00 Army 13 18 2 .424
2000-01 Army 14 20 1 .414
2001-02 Army 11 18 6 .400
2002-03 Army 18 16 0 .529
Army (17 yrs.) 245 270 30 .477
Career (19 yrs.) 294 284 31 .508