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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois wrestling is seeking a new head coach following Jim Heffernan's retirement, which was announced Thursday afternoon.

Heffernan has overseen the Illini grapplers for the last 12 seasons and has been on the coaching staff in some capacity since 1993.

"The Illinois program has afforded me life-changing memories, experiences and relationships," Heffernan said in a statement. "The decision to retire has been challenging, to say the least, but I feel great about the current group and the future of the program."

Among Heffernan's most recent accomplishments was helping Isaiah Martinez to a 35-0 season and NCAA championship at 157 pounds in 2015, directing Martinez to the latter feat again in 2016.

Heffernan finishes his entire Illinois tenure having coached 11 individual NCAA champions, 20 Big Ten champions, 73 All-Americans and 215 NCAA tournament qualifiers. The Illini recorded 13 top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships and won the 2005 Big Ten championship during Heffernan's time in Champaign-Urbana.

"For nearly three decades, Jim Heffernan has dedicated his life to Illinois wrestling," Illini athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. "He represents our athletic program's most closely held values: he cares deeply about his student-athletes and his colleagues, and he embodies toughness, competitiveness and hard work."

Heffernan, a 2006 inductee into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, started his coaching career at his alma mater Iowa in 1988 and also coached at Lehigh and Oregon State prior to arriving at Illinois in 1993. He became the Illini's head coach in 2010 following Mark Johnson's retirement.

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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