When he was in seventh grade, John Stutzman knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I started wrestling pretty late, but as soon as I set foot on the mat, I said I would be a Division I head coach one day,” Stutzman said. “People said you can’t do it or you’re not going to do it. But I’m a worker, a persistent guy. I’ve always been able to motivate and relate to people. Coaching is a natural thing for me and I was determined to do it.”
Years later, when he arrived as a transfer to the University at Buffalo, he added to his goal. He not only desired to lead a wrestling program; he wanted someday to lead the Bulls.
“In 1995 when I first walked on campus, I said it right then and there,” he recalled. “Buffalo was where I wanted to be. One day, I would come back and lead this program to greatness.”
And in early May, he officially began his tenure in the position he had dreamed about for years. Now, the hard work begins.
But hard work is nothing new for Stutzman, who graduated from the institution as the all-time wins leader for the Bulls. While he got his hand raised often in a Buffalo singlet, he is driven by what he didn’t do.
“Not achieving my goals of being an All-American or a National Champion motivates me to get the guys I coach to the next level,” he said. “I understand how to get wrestlers where they need to go.”
That drive is part of the equation. But Stutzman also has prepared for his new role for years during his previous stops as an assistant at Buffalo, Northern Illinois and Bloomsburg and then his eight seasons as the head coach for the Huskies.
“When I coached at Buffalo under Coach Beichner, he gave me leeway to run some things like the offseason program and we had some success,” Stutzman said. “At Northern Illinois, I was able to become the recruiting coordinator and helped to sign two top 25 classes there, which was a great experience.”
At Bloomsburg, he had the opportunity to wear many hats.
“I grew so much as a coach,” he said. “I learned how to run a program. It’s an awesome university but there aren’t a lot of resources. So I was the strength coach, the academic advisor, recruiting coordinator, camp coordinator. I worked with financial aid. It taught me how to run a program inside and out because I got my hands on all aspects of the program.”
In the process, Bloomsburg saw plenty of success. Stutzman earned EWL Coach of the Year honors three times and boasted 33 NCAA qualifiers and three All-Americans during his tenure. And all of that was achieved with a fraction of the scholarships that he will now have at his disposal.
In fact, Stutzman said last year’s squad had around 3.5 scholarships (a full allotment is 9.9), and even with some starters redshirting, the squad captured the EWL Dual Meet title.
“My philsophy is about year round training and good lifestyle choices,” he said. “I think when you do those things and get the parents and the kids to buy in 100%, you can win whether you have 0 scholarships or 9.9. It’s all about getting the right kids. With the 3.5 scholarships, you can’t make mistakes. We limited our mistakes the past five years and were able to have some success.”
So what part of that success stood out to Stutzman during his time in Pennsylvania?
“We’re proud of taking walk ons or kids who were never state champions or even in the top 3 of their state and having them wrestle to their potential. I love coaching people like Frank Hickman and Mike Dessino, who get better and better, winning a lot of matches and going to the National tournament. There are also guys like Matt Moley and Mike Spaid, who nobody really recruited, but they became All-Americans.”
Another wrestler Stutzman pointed to was Monsignor Farrell graduate Kevin Hartnett, a wrestler he believes will have a great season in 2013-14 for Bloomsburg given his work ethic and passion for the sport. Hartnett was one of six New Yorkers on the Huskies roster in 2012-13 (out of 30). It’s not surprising given that Stutzman has always kept tabs on the Empire State.
“I think New York wrestling is underrated to say the least,” he said. “There are so many good kids and with so few Division I programs, many of them get overlooked. There are so many great high school programs and the kids compete – in Fargo, in the club system, year round. The talent is there and we’re very excited about it. We want to come in and win the state.”
Thus far, in a short time at the helm, Stutzman has certainly made the Empire State a priority. Since his hire, the commitments have piled up, including from numerous New York State placers. For more, see here and here.
“Recruiting has been a huge priority and it’s been a process,” he said. “Coming in here, my job was to look at everyone not committed and get them here. We’re moving in the right direction. At the end of the day, we’re looking to bring in 12-15 kids this year. I think we’re on course.”
Stutzman believes that many of the new faces will see time on the mat in 2013-14. But it won’t be only newcomers, as he points to a solid group of returners, including (but not limited to) Max and Mike Soria, Justin Farmer, Wally Maziarz, Andrew Schutt, Erik Galloway, Angelo Malvestuto, Tony Lock and Jarred Lux.
“I’ve seen guys come in and work unbelievably hard already,” he said. “They’re awesome kids who will continue to get better. We have a good nucleus. The biggest thing is changing the culture here where guys are coming in to be MAC champions, National Champions and get a great education. Anything else, and this isn’t the right program. We want kids that want to train and compete every day. We’ve only had one Division I All-American here [Kyle Cerminara]. When guys are shooting to be National Champions, All-Americans start to happen on a regular basis. That’s the mindset we want to instill and it’s a work in progress.”
With this mix and mindset, Stutzman said the team will surprise some people this winter and beyond.
“When we put the system in place, they’ll respond to it,” he said. “It will be more work than they’ve ever done. I’m not saying they didn’t work hard before, but I think the system will make them successful. Being young as a team is good and I think we’ll be better than people think next year because of our effort level and in two years, we’ll be dynamite. When guys give great effort, it’s fun to watch and it always gives you a chance to win. We want to make UB wrestling exciting.”
Helping Stutzman with these goals will be head assistant coach Bryce Hasseman.
“I’ve been around Bryce for years – there’s a lot of familiarity there,” he said. “He’s an unbelievable coach. He’s competed on the international level and has trained at the Hawkeye Wrestling Club and in Colorado Springs with Terry Brands. He’s coached at Oklahoma State and with me at Bloomsburg. He’s the kind of guy people like to be around.”
The search for the remaining two members of the staff – the second and volunteer assistants – is ongoing. Those who do come in will likely play a role in the development of the Buffalo Wrestling Club/Regional Training Center. Stutzman has long been involved in the international styles and believes integrating them into training is a huge component of success.
“We’re working on establishing the Buffalo Wrestling Club, working with some local clubs like Super Six and Cobra,” he said. “Solidifying it and putting it into place is really important. Major programs have a freestyle program, a 365 day a year program, and we’re building that.”
It has clearly been a busy first few weeks on the job for Stutzman. And what’s next? For one thing, he and his family are searching for a place to live. But even though he’s yet to find a house, he feels like he’s already where he belongs.
“I claim Buffalo as my hometown and I welcomed a chance to come home,” he said. “I have a lot of great relationships in the Buffalo area and a love for the school, Western New York and wrestling in New York in general. Everything about the university is first class from the academics to the athletic department. I believe in this place. I came through here and can’t wait to put us back on the map. It’s time to put Buffalo where it belongs – in the top 10. It’s a fun time to be a Bull.”