New Missouri offensive line coach A.J. Ricker dreamed of the day his alma mater would bring him home.
Ricker, a 2004 MU graduate who served as Illinois’ offensive line coach last season, said he hounded Tigers coach Gary Pinkel whenever their paths crossed, “Hey, I’d love to come back and coach for you.”
Still, Ricker — who was born in Windsor, Mo., graduated from Klein High School in Texas then returned to the Tigers — had a moment’s pause when offensive coordinator Josh Henson called to say the job opened up after Bruce Walker retired July 1.
“When I was a single guy, it was a no-brainer — ‘I’m all in, I’ll take it,’” Ricker said. “Obviously, I have a wife (Lauren) and a kid now. … We discussed it and, when she knew it was Missouri — obviously, that’s a dream job for me — it was a no-brainer.”
Even when Fighting Illini coach Tim Beckman countered with a richer contract, Ricker, whose son Andrew was born in February, felt too strong a tug to return to the Tigers.
“At the end of the day, I told him this isn’t about the money for me,” Ricker said. “It’s really not. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for me.”
Ricker spent five years at Missouri. He redshirted in 1999 before blossoming into an All-Big 12 center and two-time captain, who made a then-record 47 consecutive starts.
Now, Ricker is eager for the chance to give back to the Tigers.
“I have a lot invested in this university,” Ricker said. “Not that I owe anybody anything, but I owe myself and told my wife and my whole family that if this opportunity ever arose, I was going to take it.”
The biggest hurdle in Ricker’s first two weeks has been terminology. His jargon at Illinois differed from the jargon Missouri’s players and staff use, but that has been a minor thing.
Meanwhile, Ricker hasn’t wasted any time putting his stamp on the line — altering protection calls and the snap sequence, while moving the guards and tackles off the line of scrimmage.
Perhaps the biggest difference the players notice with Ricker is his relaxed persona.
“Coach Walker was a little more high-strung, but Ricker is more laid back,” said starting right guard Mitch L. Hall, a junior transfer from Mississippi. “He expects us to bring the enthusiasm, which is fine. We need to, because when we’re out on the field playing, it’s up to us out there.”
That laid-back approach also extends to Ricker’s teaching style.
“If it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing, he’ll take the time to coach before he yells at you,” junior right tackle Connor McGovern said. “He’s a real player’s coach and really patient, so that’s a good quality to have.”
Ricker also has made a point to enter meetings early, giving the players a chance to speak with him and get to know him better.
“We even put him on the new-guy joke list this year,” junior center Evan Boehm said. “The new guys have to go up and say a joke. … He said he wants to go last on that.”