Ricker Hits the Field Running

Illinois filled it's recently vacated offensive line coach position with A.J. Ricker - a young and an up-and-comer with deep ties to offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.

CHAMPAIGN - As it turned out, the second time around was the charm for Illinois and offensive line coach A.J. Ricker.

Originally a candidate to lead the Fighting Illini offensive line when coach Tim Beckman filled the position with Jim Bridge in January, Ricker accepted the offer to fill the void left when Bridge left for Purdue earlier this week.

Still not officially hired, Ricker, who was unavailable for comment, was on hand and already hard at work at practice Thursday.

"We're excited to have A.J. Ricker on our staff," Beckman said. "Again, I think the first thing is I think he's a good person, and he fits into our family well."

The paperwork to confirm Ricker as an official member of the staff is expected to be finalized Friday, a school spokesman said.

Left in the cold by Bridge's sudden departure, Illinois practiced without an offensive line coach Tuesday. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and graduate assistant Drew Nystrom each spent time guiding the unit, but the situation wasn't ideal according to both Beckman and Cubit. With the need for a quick hire a clear priority, Beckman gave Cubit the go-ahead to find the best fit possible for his offense.

"I give Coach Beck a lot of credit on that one," Cubit said. "He trusts me and (said) get the guy you feel comfortable with. You know, we couldn't afford to lose another practice. We couldn't have gone through the second practice like we did the first practice -- you know, it wouldn't have been fair to those kids."

Cubit's choice was an easy one to make. Ricker coached under Cubit for four seasons at Western Michigan and played for him in 2000 at Missouri.

"Oh, it's really good because he came in and we just picked up where we left off," Cubit said. "That's four years of really bonding.

"It's really comfortable, I mean, for me right now, because I don't have to worry. When I came in you had to coach the offense to everybody. He knows it, so it worked out."

Ricker was named First-Team All-Big 12 at center in 2003 and finished his career with a Missouri school record 47 consecutive starts. Also on the Big-12 All-Academic Team, he spent time with the Chicago Bears and NFL Europe's Rhein Fire before beginning his coaching career under Cubit in 2006 at Western Michigan.

After two seasons on the Broncos staff, he left to coach at St. Joesph's College, spending one season as head coach. He returned to Western Michigan in 2011 and remained on staff after Cubit was not retained following last season. However, he left for Middle Tennessee State shortly after national signing day in February, where he remained until this week.

After nearly getting the job the first time around, Cubit and Beckman put out the word soon after Bridge left Tuesday that Ricker was now a wanted man.

"Fortunately A.J. was able to get up here. We didn't send him home," Cubit said. "He had to go to Kohl's to get some underwear for the next few days. He only brought stuff up here for a short time.

"I'm really happy he's here. He's been almost like a son to me since I coached him at Missouri."

Illinois replaced five assistants this offseason, with Bridge's here-today, gone-tomorrow act necessitating the sixth hire since the conclusion of 2012.

Ricker is now in charge of an offensive line unit that struggled mightily in 2012 and that must replace starters Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton.

While the circumstances that led to his addition weren't standard procedure, Ricker has familiarity with Cubit on his side, a factor that Beckman sees as key moving forward.

"I think it's huge. We don't lose track of anything," Beckman said. "He steps in, it's really a better situation to be honest with you because some of the terminology that was used prior to wasn't the same terminology that Coach Cubit put together. Now it's just all back."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories