Updated: Illini lose Ricker to Missouri
CHAMPAIGN — In a light moment after an Illinois football practice last fall, A.J. Ricker was jokingly asked whether he’d like to see Missouri stick with James Franklin or Maty Mauk at quarterback.
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This was while Ricker’s former coach, Gary Pinkel, was debating whether to start Franklin or Mauk as Franklin recovered from a shoulder injury.
“I’d keep going with Mauk,” Ricker said at the time.
Mauk is the clear-cut starter for Missouri this fall. And now Ricker runs the offensive line that is in charge of protecting Mauk.
Ricker left Tim Beckman’s staff Wednesday, a move the Illinois coach confirmed first with The News-Gazette, to accept the offensive line coaching position at Missouri. Ricker will replace Bruce Walker, who retired July 1.
“He’s going to accept the opportunity to go to his alma mater,” Beckman said. “We build a program and we talk about family, and he has an opportunity to go back to his family.”
Whoever replaces Ricker will become the fourth offensive line coach since Beckman took the Illinois coaching job. Luke Butkus left after the 2012 season, and his replacement, Jim Bridge, left for Purdue before spring practices started in 2013.
Ricker played at Missouri from 2000 to ’03, when he started 47 games at center. Beckman hired Ricker on March 7, 2013, from Middle Tennessee, where Ricker worked for a few months.
Man a tough loss today losing Coach Ricker. He was the best I've seen working with the O-Line. He will be missed.
— Nathan Scheelhaase (@NScheelhaase) July 9, 2014
Ricker spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons at Western Michigan as offensive line coach under Bill Cubit. Cubit was fired after the 2012 season before landing Illinois’ offensive coordinator job.
The relationship Cubit had with Ricker played an integral role in Ricker taking the Illinois job.
But once Missouri contacted Ricker last week, Cubit had a feeling the offensive line coach he’s worked with the last three seasons might depart.
“I knew it would be natural because he’s a Missouri guy,” Cubit said.
Phone messages left with Ricker, whose salary was $180,000 at Illinois, were not immediately returned Wednesday. Walker was paid $287,000 at Missouri, and the lowest-paid assistant at Missouri made $251,000.
Illinois will have four starters back on the offensive line this season: left tackle Simon Cvijanovic, left guard Michael Heitz, center Alex Hill and right guard Ted Karras. Illinois allowed 30 sacks last season, ninth in the Big Ten. It was an improvement after Illinois gave up 39 sacks to finish last in the Big Ten during the 2012 season.
“He did a great job with that,” Beckman said of Ricker. “It had a lot to do, too, with him knowing the offense. We’ve got more veterans coming back, and this isn’t a new offense we’re putting in this season. It’s the exact same. We just need somebody that can come in and do basically the same thing.”
Ricker has helped Illinois land four offensive line commits so far in the Class of 2015, including standout Gabe Megginson, a tackle from Jacksonville who picked Illinois ahead of eight other Big Ten offers.
“This does not affect my commitment (to Illinois),” Megginson said. “I wish Coach Ricker the best of luck at Mizzou. I totally understand his reasoning.”
Fellow offensive lineman commit Zeke Martin from Medina (Ohio) High School echoed Megginson’s statements.
“Coach Ricker’s leaving will not (affect) my commitment to the university,” Martin tweeted Wednesday. “I’m (an) Illini before anything and it will be always that way.”
Ricker’s departure less than two months until the Illini’s season opener against Youngstown State on Aug. 30 — and less than a month before preseason practices start Aug. 4 — doesn’t leave Beckman with much time to mull his options.
“We’ve got a couple big-name guys we’ll look at,” said Beckman, who didn’t disclose those names. “Some have had NFL experience, and some have had head-coaching experience. I’ve never had a situation where a coach leaves this close to the start of the season, but this is one of those things where we’ve got to deal with some adversity.”
Expect Cubit to have plenty of input about who the new offensive line coach is.
“When you get this late in the year, it gets a little bit of slim pickings,” Cubit said. “We’ll make it work.”