CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois wrestling has its new coach and it’s a familiar name to the program. Mike Poeta was named the new head coach on Wednesday, replacing Jim Heffernan, who retired earlier this month. Poeta was on Heffernan’s staff the past four seasons and is one of the program’s all-time greats as a three-time All-American.
“I am honored and excited to be the next head wrestling coach at the University of Illinois,” Poeta said in a statement. “It was an absolute dream come true to be part of this institution as a wrestler, assistant coach, and now head coach. I have so much love for the wrestlers on the team, this program, this school, and this state. We have a great young team that can do great things. I want to thank coach Heff, who I have learned so much from over the last four years. He’s a class act and represented this university how it should be. He left some big shoes to fill but my goal is to lift this program from great to elite.”
The 35-year old wrestled at Illinois from 2004-to-2008 for the Illini, leading the team to a 2005 Big Ten championship. Individually, Poeta was a three-time All-American, two-time NCAA finalist, two-time Big Ten champion (2008, 2009) and two-time Midlands champion (2007, 2008). After finishing third at the 2007 NCAA Championships, he was a finalist in both 2008 and 2009. Poeta left Illinois with a career collegiate record of 105-14 to rank second all-time in win percentage (.891) and 15th in career wins, and he currently ranks third and 22nd in those categories.
“We are thrilled to welcome Mike Poeta to our Fighting Illini head coaching family,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “Mike is a native of our great state, is a proud University of Illinois alumnus, and is one of the most decorated wrestlers in our program’s rich history. From our first conversations about this position, Mike impressed us with his leadership skills, energy, and vision for the future of the Fighting Illini wrestling program. He has unrivaled passion for Illinois Wrestling, and we are confident that enthusiasm will carry forward into his recruiting and coaching.”
“I’m so happy for Mike, and the program,” Heffernan said in a statement. “It’s been fun watching this process come full circle from Mike’s days as an Illini student-athlete, to running a successful club, coming back to campus as an assistant coach and now leading the program. I love the fact that we will have an alum as our new head coach. I’ve always been a big fan of Mike’s coaching and look forward to watching his impact on the Illini wrestling program.”