CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Mike Poeta was formally introduced as just the third head coach of Illinois wrestling since 1992 during a ceremony on Thursday. Poeta was promoted from assistant coach to leader of the program after Jim Heffernan retired earlier this month. Mark Johnson was the only other coach in the last 29 years for the Illini.

“I’ve been driving into work like, ‘How am I even in this position, I can’t believe how lucky I am,'” Poeta said during a Zoom press conference. “Back 17 years ago when Mark Johnson and Heff brought me in, this would have been a dream but I did not know this would be a reality.”

Poeta was a standout wrestler for the Illini from 2004-08, named a three-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion. He led Illinois to a conference championship in 2005 and went on to become a two-time NCAA finalist, finishing third in 2007. The now 35-year old finished his career with a 105-14 record, ranking him second all-time in win percentage (.891) and 15th in career wins. The Highwood, Illinois native currently ranks third and 22nd in those categories. 

“Through all these conversations I mentioned, we’ve been able to meet with very qualified coaches in the past two weeks and very quickly, Mike emerged as our leading candidate,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “This was true for a number of reasons. I was taken with his vision for the program. Again, we have talked about how successful we have been, he has the vision to take us even further. To advance us to a program that has been great, to one that is truly elite.”

“I’m in the unique position of inheriting a great, promising, young team,” Poeta said. “Coach Heff has set the table for me and like Josh said I’m wanting to take this great team to being an elite team. When I wrestled here, we won the Big Tens, and that’s where I expect to take the program to.”