Apr. 11—This isn’t the end. It’s merely the start of whatever comes next.
That’s the mindset of Doug Moses, a wrestling hall of famer several times over who, after nearly 40 years as a college coach and six decades in the sport, recently announced he’s hanging it up as New Mexico Highlands’ wrestling coach.
“I’m not saying I’ll never walk back out there and help a young man reach his potential,” Moses said recently. “But I am ready to move into whatever’s next for me. All I know is, this country needs wrestling, and I will continue to say that for the rest of my life.”
For the Iowa native, retirement means moving back to the home he and his wife share in Colorado Springs, Colo. What’s more, it means time away from the minutiae of the business side of things so he can focus on what truly makes him happy.
After a pause he said, “What exactly that is, I’m sure I’ll find out. It might have something to do with wrestling.”
Moses served as NMHU’s coach for 15 seasons, building the Cowboys’ program from scratch and coaching several all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference wrestlers and five NCAA Division II All-Americans. All told, he coached 74 All-Americans and toured the world as an ambassador of the sport.
The beginning of the end of his Highlands tenure, he said, was 13 months ago in a hotel room in Sioux Falls, S.D. Less than 24 hours before the 2020 national tournament, the NCAA canceled the event in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a tough 12 months to be honest with you with, you know, the virus and all that,” he said. “There have been a lot of obstacles put in front of me and so much of it started there.”
The team’s offseason program was halted due to the pandemic, and by the start of the fall semester in August, he said the writing was on the wall.
“When they started canceling football and all the other sports, we knew they’d be coming for us next,” Moses said. “I think it was right around Thanksgiving time when I figured, you know, this is probably it for me.”
To understand the man is to understand his history. He was the head coach at the University of Southern Colorado (since renamed Colorado State-Pueblo) from 1982 to 2001. Long before that he was a prep standout at West Waterloo High School in Iowa.
One of his teammates back then was none other than the legendary Dan Gable, perhaps the greatest American wrestler of all time. A three-time Iowa state finalist at West Waterloo, Moses was recruited to Iowa State where he and Gable were reunited.
Moses was part of three national championship teams with the Cyclones, then transferred to Adams State so he could wrestle for his brother, then-Adams State coach Gene Moses. Doug won the 1972 NAIA national title at 142 pounds, helping the Grizzlies (then known as the Indians) win the national championship.
He said his storied run of interactions with some of wrestling’s biggest names was a natural catapult into a coaching career. He was a graduate assistant for his brother, then bounced around at various stops before becoming the first coach in Southern Colorado’s history. A dozen times he had the ThunderWolves finish in the top 10 in NCAA Divison II.
By the late 1990s, however, wrestling’s future at the collegiate level was starting to look shaky. Budget cuts and the impending regulations of Title IX made the sport an easy target for schools looking to balance the books and create equal opportunities for women’s sports.
Budget reductions at USC led to the elimination of Southern Colorado’s wrestling team in 2001. Four years later, NMHU started its own program and asked Moses to build it from scratch.
“When I first arrived in Las Vegas we didn’t really have anything to work with,” Moses said. “Here we are, what, 15 years later and we have a wrestling room, we have office spaces and we have a place where we can go and say, look, wrestling lives in this place. We have a home here.”
NMHU has been New Mexico’s only college wrestling program during Moses’ tenure. With emphasis on the sport continuing to decline, he can’t help but cast an eye toward his Midwest roots and marvel at how the sport is still alive and well in that part of the country, yet floundering almost everywhere else.
“It was such a big part of my life growing up, being in a place where gyms would fill up the way they do for basketball,” Moses said. “The people who are invested in the sport feel so strongly even to this day but, yes, I can see how it has shifted over all these years.”
Moses formally announced his retirement in late February, leaving behind an NMHU program whose athletic director, Andrew Ehling, is committed to preserving. For Moses, it brings a certain sense of comfort knowing the Cowboys will live on after he’s gone.
Perhaps one day the school will honor him like so many others have. He was inducted into CSU-Pueblo’s Hall of Fame in 2011, the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame the following year and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 2018. He’s also in the Adams State hall of honor.
“As long as someone is still out there talking about our sport, I don’t really care about any of that,” he said.