Illinois hires former Wisconsin, Arkansas head coach
A former successful Big Ten football coach is returning to the conference. Former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has been hired by Illinois. He takes over for Lovie Smith who was fired on December 13.
Bielema has had many stops during his career, perhaps most notably at Wisconsin from 2004 to 2012. He started as the defensive coordinator for the Badgers during the 2004 and 2005 seasons and was promoted to head coach in 2006. The Badgers went 12-1 during his first season, and Bielema won 17 of his first 18 games. During his seven year tenure in Madison, the team held an overall 68-24 record, including four 10+ win seasons and two conference championships.
His success at Wisconsin made Bielema a highly-sought candidate for other jobs, and Arkansas lured him away following the 2012-13 season. He would not have much success in Fayetteville, however. Inj his first season, the Razorbacks went 3-9 and didn't win any conference games. He would lead the team to three winning seasons in his five years (which I'm sure they would take now) and was fired in November 2017.
Since being let go at Arkansas, Bielema has been working as an assistant in the NFL. He spent two seasons with the New England Patriots-- one as a consultant and one as the team's defensive line coach. He spent the 2020 season as a defensive assistant for the suddenly improved New York Giants defense.
Bielema was always a solid recruiter in the Midwest and brings a successful Big Ten pedigree as well as a wide range of coaching experience to Champaign. It will be interesting to see if he can have the same success at Illinois as he did at Wisconsin or if it ends up being more similar to his Arkansas tenure.