April 28, 2009

Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - University of Illinois Director of Athletics Ron Guenther announced the promotion of long-time assistant coach Jim Heffernan to the position of head wrestling coach. Heffernan has been the top assistant under recently retired head coach Mark Johnson for the past 17 years at Illinois and two previous seasons at Oregon State.

"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.