Jim Heffernan, a former Iowa wrestler and the top assistant under recently retired Illinois wrestling coach Mark Johnson, has been promoted to head the Fighting Illini program.

Heffernan, introduced as Illinois' new coach at a Tuesday news conference, said he has "big shoes to fill."

"Mark Johnson has raised the expectations and standards of the program to an extremely high level," Heffernan said. "Those expectations and goals are something I will continue to embrace as we continue on to the next chapter in Illini wrestling."

Heffernan was a four-time all-American at Iowa who won the 150-pound NCAA championship in 1986. He spent two years as a graduate assistant at Iowa before becoming an assistant coach in 1988 at Lehigh.

Get breaking news sent instantly to your inbox

When Johnson, a Rock Island native, was hired to head the Oregon State program in 1990, Heffernan was hired as an assistant coach at the Pac-10 school. He followed Johnson to Illinois two years later and has worked since as the Illini's assistant head coach.

Dan Gable, Heffernan's former college coach, issued a statement saying he believes Heffernan has "the right attitude."

"Now his work is really going to begin," Gable said. "It's going to be his program and whatever he did in the past to make it good, he's going to be the guy who will decide how good it can be. His commitment has always been there, and I don't question it, but I know he'll have to go to another level."