"I am pleased to announce Jim Heffernan as our head wrestling coach," Guenther said. "Jim has been an assistant in our program for the past 17 years and was an integral part of the program's success. He has displayed exceptional loyalty and has a great understanding of the University of Illinois. Jim had an exceptional career as a collegiate wrestler and is well respected in the wrestling community. I look forward to working with him to advance our program to the next level."
Heffernan, 45, takes over for Johnson, who was the Illinois wrestling head coach for the past 17 years. Heffernan was an assistant coach on the Illini staff throughout that entire tenure as well as the two seasons they spent at Oregon State prior to coming to Champaign. Heffernan has helped guide Illinois to 10 Top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships and has helped produce seven national champions, 45 All-Americans and 120 NCAA qualifiers.
"I would like to thank Ron Guenther for giving me the opportunity to carry on the tradition Mark Johnson and I had started 17 years ago," Heffernan said. "I feel extremely fortunate to remain at Illinois as the next head wrestling coach, as this is where I want to finish my career. Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois have been a great place to live, work and raise my family and we are pleased to be able to continue to call it home as we move forward. I would also like to thank Vince Ille, Tom Porter, Terry Cole, Dana Brenner and Susan Young for their role in the decision making process. They were all extremely helpful and I am grateful to them for their support."
Heffernan helped lead the Illini to a Big Ten championship in 2005, three consecutive Midlands titles from 2004-06 and 17 consecutive winning seasons in dual meets. He has twice been named the National Wrestling Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year, earning the honor in 1995 and 2001, and he also was named the AFLAC Assistant Coach of the Year in 2003.
"I'm extremely happy that Jim Heffernan will be the new coach of the Fighting Illini," former head coach Mark Johnson said. "He has paid his dues as a part of a very successful program at the University of Illinois for the past 17 years and he deserves this opportunity. I wish him the best and will be his biggest fan."
A 1987 graduate of the University of Iowa, Heffernan was a four-time All-American and the 150-pound NCAA champion in 1986. He earned Iowa's Male Athlete of the Year honor in 1987 and was a four-time Big Ten champion. He also led the Hawkeyes to three NCAA championships and four Big Ten titles during his time in Iowa City.
"As I transition into my new role, there will be big shoes to fill," Heffernan said. "Mark Johnson has raised the expectations and standards of the program to an extremely high level. Those expectations and goals are something I will continue to embrace as we continue on to the next chapter in Ilini wrestling. Further, I would like to commend our student-athletes for the way they handled themselves through this difficult situation. There was a lot of uncertainty throughout the last month but they remained positive, motivated and continued to work hard through the resolution of the decision."
Heffernan began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Iowa before becoming an assistant coach at Lehigh in 1988. After a two-year stint in Bethlehem, Pa., Heffernan joined Johnson's staff at Oregon State as an assistant coach in 1990.
He also coached the Cadet Wrestling Team at the world championships in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1992, and led the USA World Espoir Team in 1989. Heffernan graduated from national wrestling powerhouse St. Edward High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where he won a pair of state titles. Heffernan and his wife, Rebecca, live in Champaign with their son, Sean, and daughter, Alex.
University of Illinois names Jim Heffernan head wrestling coach
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT HEFFERNAN
"Jim and I go back a long time. He was able to step right in as a freshman at Iowa and start on a national championship team, which was pretty impressive. I just knew that he would go on and do a good job coaching. I'm really glad to see that he's able to carry on in the Illinois program. I think the big thing is that now his work is really going to begin. It's going to be his program and whatever he did in the past to make it good, he's going to be the guy who will decide how good it can be. His commitment has always been there and I don't question it, but I know he'll have to go to another level. He'll have to get a lot of people around him to help him and I don't think he'll take a backseat to anyone. I think he'll take that challenge. He knows what to do and has the right attitude to do it."
"I am extremely happy that Jim Heffernan has been given the opportunity to lead the Illinois wrestling program. He has a great background as a wrestler in high school and at Iowa. He's been an assistant for 20 years and I think it's great that people who are loyal to the university are given a chance. I think Jim will continue to build upon some of the great things that have been done during the last 17 years when he was with Mark Johnson and I'm looking forward to welcoming him as one of the Big Ten's coaches."
"I'm first relieved and then excited for Jim. After 17 years of being an assistant, Jim deserves a chance to lead the Illini. First off, Jim has always made a huge impression on the alumni. The alumni love him and he's been a huge part of their life. He's had a quiet but powerful influence behind the scenes. Now he has a chance for our state and the country to see his ability to lead. Mark has always been such a good front-man and leader that Jim hasn't had to step into that role as much, but we all know that he has it in him. Being part of the program, we see that every day. We have seen him lead in the room, but not many people have been privy to that view."
"Illinois not only has a great wrestling program but also a great tradition of having a strong, ethical, well-respected program where its student-athletes graduate and go on to become productive members of society. Not only does Jim understand that, but he's also been a big part of creating that and I'm sure he'll continue to uphold that same high standard. He's also one of the best technical coaches in the country and I'm sure he'll surround himself with the people who will fill the roles necessary to make a great coaching staff."
"Jim brings a real level of professionalism and compassion to the program. It's a one-of-a-kind program because they really care about the kids and they treat them as their own. Jim's a father-figure type of coach. He'll look after the wrestlers and they'll become part of the program's family for the rest of their life. He'll look out for what's best for you and give you sound advice."
"I'm really happy and excited that Illinois has chosen to hire Jim. He brings a ton of experience since he's been along for the whole ride with Mark Johnson at Illinois and before that at Oregon State. His credentials say a lot. He's very familiar with the Big Ten over a long period of time and he's a good person. He's a great technician and it'll bring a lot to the program and keep it moving in the direction it was going."
THE HEFFERNAN FILE
College Coaching Experience
â€¢ Illinois, assistant coach (1992-present)
â€¢ Oregon State, assistant coach (1990-92)
â€¢ Lehigh, assistant coach (1988-89)
â€¢ Iowa, graduate assistant (1987)
â€¢ AFLAC Assistant Coach of the Year Award (2003)
â€¢ NWCA Assistant Coach of the Year (1995 & 2001)
â€¢ Iowa's Male Athlete of the Year (1987)
â€¢ NCAA 150-pound Champion (1986)
â€¢ Four-time All-American, University of Iowa (1984-87)
International Coaching Experience
â€¢ Cadet Wrestling Team, Istanbul, Turkey (1992)
â€¢ USA World Espoir Team (1989)