Champaign, Ill. — Mike Poeta, who established himself as one of Illinois’s all-time greatest wrestlers and top assistant coaches in the nation as a member of the Fighting Illini staff, was named head wrestling coach today by Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman.
“We are thrilled to welcome Mike Poeta to our Fighting Illini head coaching family,” Whitman said. “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.
“Mike has first-hand appreciation for, and will build upon, the longstanding tradition of wrestling success built by Mark Johnson and Jim Heffernan over the past three decades. Congratulations and welcome to Mike, Callie, and their four children for joining us on this journey and leading Illinois Wrestling to a bright, successful future.”
Poeta, 35, is considered one of the top recruiting and development coaches in the nation, and this spring finished his fourth season on recently retired head coach Jim Heffernan’s staff.
“I’m so happy for Mike, and the program,” Heffernan said. “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.”
“I am honored and excited to be the next head wrestling coach at the University of Illinois,” Poeta said. “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.
Poeta was a member of Illinois’s 2005 Big Ten title team and earned three All-America honors and two Big Ten titles.
“Mike Poeta is one of the truly special people and athletes who I’ve had a chance to work with during my career,” said former Illini head coach Mark Johnson. “He is one of the all-time best wrestlers to compete for Illinois. Personally, he is one of the guys I remain in close contact with and I am excited to see this position stay in the Illini family that we started in 1992. I look forward to the continuation of great things from the Fighting Illini wrestling program for many years under Mike.”
Before joining Heffernan’s staff for the 2017-18 season, Poeta spent the previous five years as owner and head coach of the Poeta Training Center in Lake Forest, Illinois.
During its inaugural year, Team Poeta grew from 40 wrestlers to 200 wresters. Since then, the training center has produced 19 high school and junior high state champions. As the former owner of the team and training center, Poeta brought both administrative and coaching experience to the Illinois staff.
From an administrative side, Poeta managed the club’s budget and payroll for its 10 assistant coaches, while also directing fundraising events for non-profit organizations that benefited young wrestlers in the Chicago area. Additionally, Poeta built strong connections with some of the top high school athletes and coaches in the state of Illinois through various recruiting combines and clinics.
Prior to creating the Poeta Training Center, Poeta spent three years wrestling professionally. In 2010, Poeta represented the United States at the 2010 World Cup in Moscow, Russia. Two years later, Poeta competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
A 157-pounder from 2004-08 for the Illini, Poeta became one of the most successful wrestlers in Fighting Illini history and was a member of Illinois’s 2005 Big Ten championship team. 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. Poeta graduated from the College of Applied Health Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in community health in 2009.
A native of Highwood, Illinois, Poeta was rated the No. 1 pound-for-pound high school recruit in 2004 after winning three High School National Championships and two IHSA state championships. He was a four-time Illinois state placewinner (3rd-3rd-1st-1st) and compiled a career prep record of 175-5. Poeta was the 2004 Junior Freestyle National champion (152 pounds), two-time Cadet Freestyle National champion (2001, 2002) and a member of the Wrestling USA Dream Team (2004).
Poeta will receive a four-year contract starting at $160,000 annually, with his appointment subject to University of Illinois Board of Trustees approval.