Colorado State University - Pueblo
2007 - Present
John Wristen, 2011 National Coach of the Year by American Football Monthly magazine, has just completed his fourth season as the head football coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo and sixth year as an employee of the University. In his time, he has dramatically elevated the football program from upstarts to legitimate national power in just four seasons.
A former all-conference quarterback at CSU-Pueblo from 1980-83, Wristen faced the monumental task of forging a football program from the ground up when he accepted the job in July 2007. He arrived at CSU-Pueblo with no coaching staff and no players, given the job of building CSU-Pueblo's first football team since 1984 in just a 365-day window.
Unbelievably, it only took three years to turn the team into Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champions, rising all the way to a national number-one ranking and the nation's top seed in the 2011 NCAA Division II Playoffs. For his efforts, in addition to his national coach of the year distinction, he was one of five national finalists for the Liberty Mutual Division II Coach of the Year award as well as the Regional Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches' Association and Don Hansen's Football Gazette, Colorado Coach of the Year by the National Football Foundation, and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
CSU-Pueblo's rise to national prominence began in his first full season as head coach, leading the Pack to a 4-6 record in 2008, recording the fourth-best record in NCAA Division II history for a startup program in its first season of competition.
He upped the ante with a 7-4 record in 2009, including a big road win over defending-RMAC Champion, Chadron State, and halting the Eagles’ 28-game RMAC winning streak. The seven wins marks the third-most wins in NCAA Division II history for a startup program in its second season.
The ThunderWolves’ 11-10 mark over its first two seasons of competition is also the third-best record among NCAA Division II startup programs.
In 2010, the Pack turned in an even more impressive campaign, going 9-2 and finishing just a game out of an RMAC Championship and a national playoff berth.
Wristen returned to Pueblo after coaching the previous 17 years in the NCAA Division I ranks at the University of Colorado, Northwestern University, and, most recently, UCLA. He was chosen from an application pool of more than 100 football coaches.
During the 2006 season, Wristen served as the special teams and tight ends coach at UCLA. He coached all-American tight end Justin Medlock and worked closely with the offensive coordinator in play calling.
Prior to UCLA, he served his second of two stints at CU from 1999-2006. He helped guide the Buffaloes to four Big 12 North Division Championships and the 2001 Big 12 Title. He coached the tight ends, kickoff and punt teams, and was given the additional responsibility of recruiting coordinator in 2003. He coached three all-Americans and helped develop and implement the West Coast Offense at CU.
From 1991-1999, Wristen served as the running back, kickoff return and punt team coach at Northwestern University. The Wildcats won back-to-back Big 10 Titles in 1995 and 1996 during Wristen’s tenure, and he coached Heisman Trophy finalist Darnell Autry. Northwestern, who played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949 during Wristen’s time, received the 1997 NCAA Graduation Award for graduating 100 percent of its undergraduate student-athletes.
Wristen’s career in Division I football started in 1990 as a graduate assistant at CU, working with the quarterbacks and running backs and helping the Buffaloes to the 1990 National Championship.
He also served as the offensive coordinator at Fort Lewis College, head football and girls basketball coach at Rocky Ford (Colo.) High School, and assistant football coach at Weslaco (Texas) High School.
As the starting quarterback at then-University of Southern Colorado, Wristen was an honorable mention All-American quarterback, guiding USC to its only NAIA National Playoff appearance in 1983. He graduated as USC’s all-time leader in passing yards (3,283) and touchdown passes (26). In 1982, Wristen led the NAIA in passing efficiency with a 182.5 rating as a junior.
After graduating with an education degree, Wristen signed a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos. After being released from the Broncos, he worked toward a Master of Arts degree from Adams State College, which he received in 1988.
John is engaged to Rochelle Kelly DeVargas and they have four children: Bailey, C.T., JoVanna and Dex.