Rutgers Wrestling names NJ Legend Jeff Buxton as SKWC Head Coach
Rutgers wrestling has a new leader of their regional training center. The program announced on Monday that Jeff Buxton has been named the head coach of the Scarlet Knights Wrestling Club. Buxton, a legendary coach in both the state of New Jersey and across the country, takes over the program after his stint as head coach of the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club.
“Coach Buxton is a mentor to all of us, and has coached all of us on staff at one point or another,” Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale told TKR.
Buxton did have an impact on the entire coaching staff, but his closest relationship within the program is with the person Goodale credits for the hire, SKWC Executive Director, John Leonardis.
“I am super proud of the way John Leonardis continues to work towards making this program special,” said Goodale. “He put a lot of time into this hire.”
Leonardis understands the importance of this addition to the program, but he admits that there is sentimental value which makes it even more special for him. Leonardis grew up in Blairstown, and attended Blair Academy, where Buxton was his coach.
“For me, it’s very special – especially it being my first hire”, Leonardis stated. “He was my high school coach, I grew up in Blairstown, and I was in his room from the time I was eight years old.
“There’s a lot of meaning to this for me. He is one of my first and biggest mentors”, said Leonardis.
This is a monumental step forward for the SKWC, which has had its ups and downs over the years. There has been a shift in the wrestling landscape where more kids than ever before are wrestling Freestyle or Greco-Roman at the state, national, and even international level. Top recruits are no longer looking for a home to just win an NCAA title, but World and Olympic titles as well.
“The RTC’s in general have really given USA Wrestling a huge boost. What’s happened over the last two Olympic cycles is our best colleges wrestlers have latched on to RTC’s,” Leonardis said when asked about the importance of regional training centers.
Of course, this is not just a massive upgrade for the SKWC, but the coaching staff sees it as an opportunity to help with recruiting.
“One of his strengths is building relationships through the sport of wrestling," Leonardis said regarding Buxton’s potential impact on recruiting. “It starts out in wrestling, but the relationships develop to lifelong friendships and mentorships. It is really going to accentuate our relationships in recruiting.”
Buxton spent 30 years at Blair Academy, turning the program into one of the most dominate forces in high school wrestling. He led Blair to 30 Prep National Titles, and had ten seasons where the program finish as the top ranked team in the country.
In addition, Buxton has severed as a coach on multiple national and world teams, and in 2019 he was officially named coach of the United States freestyle World Team.
Throughout his career, Buxton has trained over 40 division one All-Americans and 12 division one national champions.
Now that the SKWC has landed such a monumental hire as a coach, what is next for the RTC?
“I think it’s a slow process, but we have to make sure our foundation is rock solid. Anytime we want to build something, you want to make sure our foundation is rock solid, and (Buxton) is a big part of that. Next, we’re going to add a few resident athletes at a time.”
Of course, the program needs funding to do so. Arguably, one of the best things about these regional training centers is they allow wrestlers to chase their Olympic dreams while making a living, but of course, that comes at a price for the program.
“The biggest thing is we have to keep raising money in order to pay these (resident athletes). Some of them are making a lot of money right now, and it is requiring us to really concentrate on our fundraising efforts,” said Leonardis.
Leonardis did not forget to mention how important the loyal Rutgers fanbase is, and how monumental they have been making it possible to add Jeff Buxton and recently acquired resident athlete, Myles Martin.
“We are so fortunate to have the fan base that we do. They are behind us all the way, and we need them to make things like this possible. We have about 115 people in our pinpool right now. It doesn’t always need to be that big six-figure donor. Those who donate ten, five, or even one dollar a pin move the needle.”