Six months after Princeton wrestling celebrated its first individual national champion in 72 years, the program is facing a different kind of milestone: its first coaching change since 2006.
Chris Ayres, who led the Tigers’ rise from a winless team to an Ivy League champion, was named head coach at Stanford on Sept. 11. Joe Dubuque, a veteran assistant who has been one of two associate head coaches at Princeton since 2017, was announced as the Tigers’ new head coach on Sept. 19.
Dubuque, a New Jersey native who won a pair of state titles at Glen Ridge High School before going on to win two NCAA championships at Indiana University, said he was grateful for the opportunity.
“This is a dream job for me, to continue doing what I love at the place I love,” he told PAW, adding that the announcement had sparked hundreds of texts from friends around the state and in the broader wrestling community. “It was overwhelming just to know the love and support that I have.”
Athletics director John Mack ’00 praised Dubuque’s background as a coach and competitor in a University release. “Rarely do you have the opportunity to hire a coach with Joe’s exceptional résumé as both a coach and a wrestler,” Mack said. “Most importantly, Joe has proven himself to be a tremendous leader for our wrestling program and someone who upholds the high values of our University.”
The rest of Princeton’s staff — associate head coach Sean Gray and recently hired assistant Quincy Monday ’23, a three-time All-American — will remain with the program.
Dubuque thanked Ayres, a friend and mentor whose tenure in the last 17 years has been one of the most remarkable stories in Princeton athletics. After two winless seasons (2006-07 and 2007-08), Ayres’ teams made a decade-long climb toward the top of the Ivy League pack, culminating in a 2020 win over Cornell that secured the program’s first league championship in 34 years.
“We went through a lot of experiences together — a lot of adversity, a lot of amazing times,” Dubuque said. Ayres, he added, gave him freedom to coach in a way that matches his personality — driven, emotional — and he expects that to carry forward in his new role. (He joked that without Ayres alongside him, he may need to find someone else to keep him from going onto the mat during matches.)
Dubuque was in Patrick Glory ’23’s corner in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last March when the four-time All-American captured the NCAA title at 125 pounds — the same weight class Dubuque had competed in at Indiana. It was the ultimate validation for what he’d been telling Princeton recruits for years: “You can get the best education in the country while having the resources to compete for a national championship.”
The evidence had been growing before Glory’s win: Princeton placed in the top three at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) meet four times (2017, 2018, 2019, and 2022); Tiger wrestlers earned All-America honors 14 times from 2016 through 2023; and both Glory and Monday reached the national finals in 2022.
Dubuque said there are more goals ahead for the program, including an EIWA team championship and a top-10 finish at the NCAA meet (Princeton was 13th in 2023).
The Tigers will begin their daily practice schedule Oct. 15 and start the year with the Princeton Open Nov. 5. Dubuque’s first dual meet as a head coach will be Dec. 3 against his alma mater, Indiana, coached by a former teammate, Angel Escobedo, whom Dubuque hosted on a recruiting visit nearly two decades ago.