Each Tuesday, TheMat.com will be tossing 10 questions at a college wrestling coach We visited with Buffalo head coach John Stutzman this week. After a successful stint at Bloomsburg, Stutzman returned to his alma mater and is in his third year with the program. They scored a big MAC win over a ranked Old Dominion team on Friday, then fell to another MAC team in the national rankings, Ohio, on Sunday. We asked Stutzman about the progress with his program.
Question 1: What was the key to Buffalo’s win over nationally-ranked MAC opponent Old Dominion on Friday?
Stutzman: We are such a young team; it has been a roller-coaster of emotions. We had to get these guys really believing in themselves and they did that. We fought really hard that match. That was a good building block for the program. Even in the match we lost at 125, he pushed the pace, he was attacking and he was getting on the guy’s leg. We won a bunch of close matches. We won at 157 in overtime. We got a couple of takedowns there, a takedown to send it into overtime and the takedown in overtime. That was huge for us. At 174, we have an 18-year-old senior, who was home schooled and never really wrestled competitively. He beat Brooks Climmons in a real tough bout. At 197, we won on six overtimes. Winning those real close ones, and at 125 pushing the pace, it was fun to watch.
Question 2: What did the team learn in its home loss to nationally-ranked MAC opponent Ohio on Sunday?
Stutzman: We learned that we have to do it consistently. We learned to regroup, and that we need to get our emotions high again. You can’t take a back seat in the MAC Conference. To be honest with you, we lost a bunch of the close matches with Ohio. We lost on riding time at 141. We lost on riding time at 184. At 133, we took the guy down, we had a cradle, we were turning him over, and he re-cradled us and pinned us. We lost the close ones on Sunday. Lots to learn. We have to step up every single time out, and I think we have the team to do that.
Question 3: What kind of progress have the Bulls made since you were hired as head coach back in 2013?
Stutzman: When I first got here, there were 15 guys on the roster. Three were ineligible and three were suspended for social activities. We really had nine guys in the room at the time I got here. There was an academic problem and some social problems here. That first year, we were 3-17. I don’t want to say it was a nightmare, but it was tough. It was tough emotionally, tough on my family. We spent our time recruiting, getting the right kids. We brought in a really big class my first year. The we got hit with an APR ban which nobody knew was coming. That set us back last year. We went from three wins to five wins and now we have eight wins, and we have a ton of young kids in the program who are really hungry. We are excited about it. I think we are going in the right direction.
Question 4: How tough is the competition in the MAC, and how does the conference stack up nationally?
Stutzman: Some people think I am crazy when I say this, but I think it is arguably the second toughest conference in the country. When you have Missouri, Brian Smith does an unbelievable job. With Doug Schwab (at UNI), he is doing a great job there. You have got Stevie Martin (at ODU); he has four or five legit guys in his lineup that can be an All-American. On top of that, you have Tom Borrelli (at Central Michigan) who has proven himself, Joel Greenlee with a really tough Ohio team. There’s Kent State, Jim Andrassy does a great job, and they have a real solid team. David Bolyard doesn’t get enough credit for what he is doing at Eastern Michigan. Northern Illinois is building and we have some guys here right now who we have to keep progressing.
Question 5: What wrestlers on your team should wrestling fans look out for come conference time and at the NCAAs?
Stutzman: I have a young heavyweight who has been wrestling five or six years, Jake Gunning, who is currently 14-9, and has been ranked in the country this year. He has freestyle aspirations. He was second in the Junior World Team Trials last year and almost went to the Junior Worlds. He’s coming on. He is ranked No. 2 or 3 in the MAC also. He is doing a great job and works hard every day. He loves to wrestle. He is one guy I am really excited about his future progress. Kyle Akins, our little 125 pounder, he is coming back from a shoulder injury last year. He didn’t wrestle last year so this is kind of his first year in college, so to speak. He has 14 or 15 wins. He was third in Fargo in freestyle. He is another kid who loves to wrestle. Our 133 pounder Brian Lantry has 15 wins, the most wins on the club right now. He is a little sparkplug, a real fighter. We have some other guys peppered in the lineup that compete real hard. But those three, I enjoy watching and they train really hard.
Question 6: What do you consider your recruiting base for Buffalo, and what kind of athlete are you looking for to bring into this program?
Stutzman: Our recruiting base, because we are in the MAC, with Missouri out there and Northern Iowa also, we are looking for some kids nationally. I want kids who literally want to come to the University at Buffalo and bleed blue and white. And I think when you find those kids, they make the program stronger. We have a bunch of kids who believe in Buffalo and want to be here. We are looking all over. We have kids from Illinois, from New Jersey, from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Indiana. We are really trying to look really hard in Ohio and Missouri and places like that. The MAC is a Midwest league. Most of our teams are out there in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. We are kind of a Midwestern league. We are trying to get those kind of kids, those tough kids.
Question 7: You wrestled for Buffalo. Was that an attraction for you coming here, and how did your experience as an athlete there help you now that you coach there?
Stutzman: There is no better place in the country for me. I love Western New York. My family loves it here. I think it is a great place to live, a great place to raise a family. I love UB. I had some of the best experiences in my life here. Just thinking about those times, I believe we can get it done here. Academically, this is really a top-notch institution. We are an AAU (Association of American Universities) institution and a lot of people don’t know that. We are one of the top state schools in the country. We have about 30,000 students. We have a great athletic department and a great support staff. It is a great time to be here.
Question 8: You have been very active coaching with USA Wrestling teams over the years. How has that helped you in your role as a head college coach?
Stutzman: I love freestyle wrestling. I love the Olympic styles of wrestling. It allowed me to learn a lot, when you get around the best guys. It allowed me to pick those guys’ brains a little bit on trips. It allowed me to be around some of the best coaches in the world. I love that stuff. I have a kid right now who wrestled for Trinidad and Tobago at the World Championships, Nate Rose, and he has Olympic aspirations this year, trying to make the 2016 Games. He is currently training here. We have Justin Grant, my assistant coach, who has qualified for the Olympic Trials this year. Then there is Richard Perry, a past student-athlete of mine. He comes up here quite a bit to train, getting ready for the Trials in Iowa City. It has allowed me to grow. One of my goals is to one day be an Olympic coach. I want to keep growing as a coach, and it has allowed me to do that.
Question 9: Justin Grant wrestled for you at Bloomsburg and now helps coach at Buffalo while he competes at the Senior level. What kind of wrestler is he, and what has he contributed as a coach?
Stutzman: Justin does a great job. He is a big reason why Jake Gunning has developed as he has. I tell Justin, his main focus is to train and coach. He has done well in that role. He is a super athletic heavyweight. He can move, he can wrestle, he is big and strong. He has done a phenomenal job helping develop those upper weight guys like Nate Rose and Jake Gunning. We have another heavyweight on our team, Nolan Terrance, who is trying to make the Canadian Junior Team this year. Justin has done a great job with those guys.
Question 10: When you were at Bloomsburg, the Huskies were nationally ranked and had All-Americans. How far away is Buffalo from reaching or exceeding that level of performance?
Stutzman: When I first got here, I said I wanted to do it in five years. I am sitting behind the desk, and man, I think it could be six, seven, eight years. Just looking at what Coach Goodale has done at Rutgers. It has taken some time, and he has really done a great job to get that thing going where he wants it. I am not very patient. I am hoping we get guys at the national tournament this year, that we get guys on the podium. I think it is a five, six, seven year process before we really see dividends in the work we are putting in now.
Past Tossin’ 10 interviews
January 19 – Iowa head coach Tom Brands
January 12 – Iowa State head coach Kevin Jackson
December 22 – Arizona State head coach Zeke Jones
December 15 – Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale
December 8 – Nebraska head coach Mark Manning
December 1 – Drexel head coach Matt Azevedo
November 24 – Oklahoma head coach Mark Cody
November 17 – Oklahoma City’s head men’s & women’s coach Archie Randall
November 10 - Stanford head coach Jason Borrelli
November 3 - Pennsylvania head coach Alex Tirapelle
October 27- South Dakota State head coach Chris Bono