A Coach You’ve Probably Never Heard of: Colorado State-Pueblo’s John Wristen

When John Wristen returned to his alma mater to become head coach at Colorado State-Pueblo in 2007, he was charged with restarting a program that had been discontinued in 1984. In the course of just over a year, he had to field a varsity team without the benefit of any prior preparation. He used word of mouth, personal contact, and many emails to advertise tryouts that fall. There hadn’t even been a club team since the sport was dropped.

That first year – 2008 – the Thunderwolves finished 4-6 but improved to 7-4 in 2009. CS-P then went 9-2 in 2010 and this past fall finished 11-1 with a perfect 9-0 record in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Wristen’s team finished number 1 in the polls among all Division II teams at the end of the regular season.

The Thunderwolves featured a balanced attack on offense, rushing for 187 yards per game and passing for 181 more. On defense, they led all Division II colleges in scoring defense, surrendering just 10.3 points per game.

Wristen had been an honorable mention All-American quarterback at then-University of Southern Colorado and guided the team to its only NAIA playoff appearance in 1983. He graduated with an education degree in 1984.

Wristen returned to Pueblo after coaching for 17 seasons at Colorado, Northwestern, and UCLA. He was chosen as CS-P’s new head coach from a pool of more than 100 applicants. For his accomplishments, Wristen was selected as American Football Monthly’s Division II Coach of the Year for 2011.