Meet the man with the toughest job in the Big 12


Before taking one look at the name on his diploma and deciding you don’t like him, first consider that new Kansas offensive line coach A.J. Ricker once inspired a big ovation from you at Memorial Stadium.

“Out on that field right there, with Brad Smith at quarterback, he was (calling an audible) and I snapped it early and he wasn’t ready for it,” said Ricker, a 2003 first-team All-Big 12 center at Missouri. “I never thought you could shotgun-snap a ball 20 yards. I sure did.”

And the fans cheered. Not that Ricker’s face could have turned any redder than it already had.

“The worse feeling in the world is when you’re playing the line, you’re blocking a guy, and his eyes get big,” Ricker said. “Why is nobody doing anything? And you turn around and Brad Smith is trying to get the 20-yard shotgun snap.”

The verbal darts sent on walks from the visiting locker room to the team bus, those he enjoyed. Such is the fate of a visiting player in a big-time rivalry. You get to play the role of villain, which can bring out the best in competitors.

“I just remember going in the parking lot, whether it was the cheerleaders or whoever it was, giving you nice gestures,” Ricker said. “Man, it was awesome. The only thing that got corny to me, when we beat each other we would tear down the goalposts. I’m like, ‘What are we doing?' It’s a rivalry.”

On hiatus to the chagrin of Ricker and players from both sides of the Border War.

“I like rivalries,” Ricker said. “Growing up in Texas, Texas and Texas A&M don’t play anymore. I was a part of Missouri-Illinois, that border-war game. Nobody wants to play that game to open up the season. I get that, but it is kind of sad seeing those rivalries going away.”

Bitter feelings have a way of lingering.

“I heard from teammates,” Ricker said of going to work for the other side. “They’ll all never talk to me, that’s what they say. They would all do the same thing obviously. The rivalry has kind of gone away. That’s what’s crazy. They don’t play each other anymore. I did have to hear about it for about a week. (Former Missouri coach Gary) Pinkel texted me congratulating me.”

Missouri went 11-3 in Ricker’s first season as Pinkel’s offensive line coach, lost his job when Pinkel retired and then went to Illinois, but it was short stay because the Illini made a coaching change, hiring Lovie Smith.

“So Lovie cut me for a third time,” Ricker said.

Smith was coach of the Chicago Bears when he cut Ricker.

“Twice,” Ricker said. “Not once, but twice. … Lovie’s a great coach. I get it. Obviously, being in the profession, I get it.”

He no doubt also gets that job openings don’t come about if everything was going great for the predecessor.

It’s easy to make the case that Ricker has the toughest job in the Big 12. Exhibit A: Kansas doesn’t have enough healthy bodies at O-line to play a spring football game and instead will hold a public practice, 1 p.m. Saturday.

Left tackle Hakeem Adeniji (shoulder surgeries) and right guard Chris Hughes and reserve tackle Cam Durley have been limited by injuries this spring and were unavailable to play in the spring game, which left KU with nine healthy offensive linemen. Returning center Mesa Ribordy retired from football because of a concussion history.


John Fitzgerald 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm not gonna lie I was confused by the Ricker hire. Hoping he can make a difference but he has a lot of work cut out for him. And I'm not trying to hate on Beaty but it surprises me that the OL is still a big question mark going into his 4th year. I write a little about it here:

This should have been the number one priority. You cannot win games if you cannot control the line of scrimmage.

Mike Bennett 4 years, 2 months ago

Talk about rowing upstream without a paddle? The guy has no shot. No talent to coach.

Brett McCabe 4 years, 2 months ago

There are a lot of reasons that Zenger completely whiff when he hired Beaty - and this is one of them. A coach who had never been a P5 coordinator, let alone even sniff a head coaching office, is going to have trouble putting together a staff. No one was coming with him from A&M, he had zero network of people to pull from, and he has replaced virtually every coach he hired in season one.

The result? Chaos at the QB position, no clue whatsoever on how to build a roster, a switch - after three years- at the O-line coaching position. Kids who joined this program in Beaty's first recruiting class probably have to ask the coaches to wear name tags so that they can remember who is on first - this week.

Whether this guy can coach or not isn't even a relevant question. Beaty's mismanagement of the roster, his Hail Mary JUCO recruiting class this year, plus Beaty's inability to build a staff means that everyone of these guys will be packing their bags come November. With the exception of Beaty, of course, he'll be gone before the end of September.

[''] 4 years, 2 months ago

4th different WR coach and not a single HS DT recruit and yet not one single juco DT to make 1st or 2nd team all-conference.

John Brazelton 4 years, 2 months ago

Fans wanted Weis and Beaty to recruit high school players and it takes 3 years to develop an offensive lineman. Beaty's first and second seasons had freshmen playing the right offense tackle spots who then slipped back down the depth chart. And Mesa played center too early in his career and is now gone forever. We finally have upper class linemen this season. Let's see if Riker can develop a Big 12 Caliber offensive line with the various talent.

Jim Stauffer 4 years, 2 months ago

There will be one major difference in the play of the O-Line, if we believe the reports. Ricker believes in physical play. Dominate the guy on the other side. Yenser seemed to teach the kids to dance and play finesse. Certainly you have to have footwork and get into the right position, but in the end you have to physically handle the guy in front of you. Our guys will be tougher than they were in previous years. Will that be enough? We have to wait and see.

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