John Wristen is always good for a one-liner or two when roaming the golf course at the Pueblo Country Club. And there’s not a day when he takes on the tough 18-hole track that he doesn’t bump into someone he knows or groups of people that at least know him. And now he might get more time to stop and chat.

Since CSU-Pueblo’s football program was resurrected in 2008, Wristen has been the lone coach leading the program. He led the team to a win its first game back as a program and he led the ThunderWolves to the 2014 national championship.

For 15 seasons, Wristen has been the face of the ThunderWolves.

But that all changes now. Wristen has decided to relinquish his position as football coach and move into a new administrative role at CSU-Pueblo.

He confirmed the decision to Mile High Sports in a phone call Monday night while taking time to reflect on what he has for the ThunderWolves and the new challenges that he’ll face in this role.

“I want to help our university grow,” Wristen said. “I want to help our athletic department grow. I want to help mentor young athletes, young coaches and use this opportunity to help them grow rather try to draw up a play on 3rd and long.”

Wristen held the position for 15 years, but the ThunderWolves competed in 14 seasons, losing the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The football program was shut down after the 1984 season but was brought back by the school in 2008 thanks in large part to the Friends of Football Foundation. One of Wristen’s favorite memories came in the first game of the 2008 season when the ThunderWolves beat Oklahoma Panhandle State 24-13.

“Going back to that, no one knew anything about us,” Wristen said. “That was a big highlight as was going to Chadron, Nebraska the next year. They hadn’t lost a league game in three or four years or something like that. We were able to go up and beat them in the second year of our program.”

The pinnacle of Wristen’s coaching career came in the 2014 season. He guided the ThunderWolves to a 14-1 record and beat Minnesota State-Mankato 13-0 to win the NCAA Division II national championship.

In his 14 seasons, the only time Wristen’s squad finished with a losing record was the 2008 campaign where it went 4-6. In 2011, the ThunderWolves started a stretch of winning four straight RMAC championships. They won seven conference titles in eight years dating from 2011 to 2018. He compiled a 125-33 record as head coach of the program.

The winning was great but the true joy for Wristen was the process in which he got his players to achieve those wins.

“I loved taking players where they couldn’t take themselves and getting them to compete at a high level,” Wristen said. “I loved getting them to the point of completely selling out for 60 minutes then looking at the scoreboard to see if it was in our favor. When they sell out, it’s the most enjoyable thing you can get out of a bunch of guys.”

When talking about his accomplishments, Wristen is quick to brush off his role in the success of the teams. He may be the conductor, but it’s the instruments that spit out the quality of the music.

“It was more about the kids,” Wristen said. “They were the ones who achieved all that.”

While the decision to step away from the team was tough, Wristen credits the staff at CSU-Pueblo for the willingness to put him in a position where he can mentor coaches and athletes alike so that the athletic department as a whole can benefit.

“There aren’t a lot of universities that are willing to do something like this,” he said.

Being able to walk away from coaching on his terms was important to him as was maintaining a presence in the athletic so that he can still contribute to the college football team that he played for many years ago and also recently coached to a national championship.

Anyone who knows Wristen knows that he is a Pueblo guy and CSUP is very much a home for him. But when football season begins next fall, he won’t be listening to any chatter on a headset, trying to fire up the players or the roster or expressing disagreements with the RMAC officiating staff.

He may still be on the sideline or he could be on the pavilion above the locker rooms behind the south end zone. He doesn’t know where he’ll be.

“I’ll be wherever the new coach wants me,” Writen said. “And I’ll be standing there next to my wife.”

And probably around the same people he’s likely to see more frequently on the golf course.