Head coach John Stutzman brings toughness, winning culture to UB’s wrestling program
The only fun thing about wrestling is getting your hand raised, according to UB head wrestling coach John Stutzman. However, after Stutzman’s first match in the seventh grade, his opponent had his hand raised.
After losing the match, Stutzman went home crying.
His mom responded with a pointed message: “Toughen up. If you don’t like it, go be a swimmer.”
He knew he had to toughen up.
“Then I got my hand raised and I was like ‘Oh man this is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,’” Stutzman said.
Stutzman became UB’s head coach in 2013 and has brought a winning culture and toughness to the program. His cauliflower ear may be his most defining characteristic. Life has always revolved around wrestling for Stutzman and he has instilled that same passion into his young UB wrestlers.
“I think I’m a better person because of him,” said sophomore Brett Perry. “He always tells us to do the right thing, just to be a better person, just being tougher and to not let things bother you. The culture he’s helped create has made me a better person and a better wrestler.”
Stutzman wrestled at UB in the ’90s and made it his goal to one day become Buffalo’s head coach and raise the program into a national powerhouse.
“I sat here in 1995, somebody asked me what my goal was. I told them that I was going to be the next head coach for the University at Buffalo,” Stutzman said.
In high school, Stutzman wrestled on a nationally ranked team in New Castle, Delaware. His coach was Jack Holloway, a famous high school wrestling coach who coached his wrestlers to a record of 297-35. Stutzman was unsure whether he wanted to wrestle in high school, until he met Holloway.
“I was wrestling and he came up to me and he said, ‘Hey I want you to be my guy,’” Stutzman said. “That was the first time anyone has ever said that to me. That kind of resonated with me.”
Stutzman was always around greatness. His time during high school also showed how dominant he was. He went to the state tournament every year and placed. Although he lost a few times in the finals, this didn’t deter him from striving to be the best.
He committed to UB, where he became the school’s all-time career wins leader with 95 wins at the time of his graduation.
There was another goal Stutzman had in the back of his head: He wanted to be a Division-I wrestling coach.
“That’s what my goal was. I said it and I told everyone that. They laughed at me to be quite honest with you,” Stutzman said.
Stutzman’s whole life revolves around wrestling. His career path, how he carries himself and even his family. He met his wife while working wrestling camps and coached her younger brother.
“My brother kept telling me ‘You got to meet my coach.’ ‘You guys are perfect for each other and I was like ‘No way, I’m gonna do that,” said Annette Stutzman, Stutzman’s wife. “And then a couple years later, we ended up just meeting unexpectedly and the rest is history.”
She’s been with him on his journey to become the head coach for UB for 15 years.
“This has always been the job he’s always wanted, since the day that I met him,” Annette said.
Stutzman coached at Northern Illinois University and Bloomsburg University before he came to UB in 2013. He remembers officially being named the head coach. He described it as a dream.
Stutzman models his coaching system after Dan Gable, arguably the greatest wrestler of all time. Gable instituted a system in Iowa based around the notion that no opposing wrestler is unbeatable.
“I like that style, I think it fits well with the personality of Western New York and Midwest type kid,” Stutzman said.
He’s also a student of the sport. He watches the best programs in the country and follows whom they’re recruiting and what they’re doing.
“I want them to feel like every time they enter the wrestling room, it’s Christmas,” Stutzman said.
These past few seasons, that’s been the case. Every year, the program has gotten better and inches toward Stutzman’s ultimate goal of becoming a nationally ranked team.
Buffalo had its best season last year and they sent three wrestlers to the NCAA tournament.
During matches, Stutzman is still all over his wrestlers. He makes sure they are doing whatever they need to do to win.
“He’s crazy. He’s all over the place, he’s fun though, he makes it fun,” said junior Austin Weigel. “He’s really into it… you could tell he loves it.”
Stutzman is not shy about his expectations. He wants to build Buffalo into a perennial top 15 program and he is not exaggerating. His wrestlers speak with the same rhetoric. Stutzman’s love for the sport has everyone around the program believing they can be as great as he says they can.
“You don’t find very many people who love what they do in life,” Annette said. “For him, he’s the only person I can honestly say, he loves everything he does with wrestling.”
Brian Lara is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org