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
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
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
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.