College football: Bielema takes reins of Hogs
Wisconsin coach leaves for Arkansas post
Bret Bielema holds up the Big Ten championship trophy after Wisconsin defeated Nebraska, but it’s unknown if he will coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Bret Bielema is taking his brand of power football to Arkansas, leaving Wisconsin after seven seasons.
Arkansas released a statement last night saying Bielema has agreed to a deal to take over the program that was sent reeling following the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino.
A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information hasn’t been released publicly, said the deal is for six years and $3.2 million annually.
Bielema, Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit victory seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas in his first season at the Capital One Bowl.
“His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. “He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”
Bielema is leaving the Big Ten for the Southeastern Conference and a program that opened the year with hopes of challenging for a national championship, only to get mired in the Petrino scandal before stumbling to a 4-8 finish.
The move was the second stunning hire this year at Arkansas, which brought in John L. Smith as interim coach after firing Petrino for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department. Long announced after this season that Smith wouldn’t return.
Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach than the one to which the Razorbacks have become accustomed. Arkansas continually ranked among the SEC’s best passing teams under Petrino, but Bielema is known for his dominant offensive lines and slew of running backs.
“During my conversation with Jeff (Long), he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program,” Bielema said in a statement. “It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals.”
Bielema, 42, was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for two years before being promoted to head coach in 2006. He played for Iowa and started his coaching career there as an assistant under Hayden Fry and, later, Kirk Ferentz.
“I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas,” said Alvarez, who’s now Wisconsin’s athletic director. “He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas.”
According to a source close to Wisconsin’s program, Bielema would like to coach the Badgers (8-5) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 against Stanford (11-2).
One source wasn’t sure if Alvarez would allow that, and another suggested it was unlikely that Alvarez would want to see Bielema on the sideline knowing he was leaving for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks improved their victory total in four straight seasons under Petrino, including a 21-5 record from 2010 to ’11, and finished last season ranked No. 5. They had talked openly in the spring about competing for the school’s first SEC championship and perhaps a national title.
Then came the April 1 motorcycle accident that led to Petrino’s downfall. Petrino, a married father of four, initially said he was alone during the wreck. He later admitted to riding with his mistress, a former Arkansas volleyball player he hired to work in the athletic department.
Smith, who had been an assistant the past three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to guide a team that returned All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed Smith back with open arms.
The season quickly hit the skids with a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, starting a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings.
The Razorbacks finished with the school’s lowest victory total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas struggled to find its identity in the SEC after leaving the former Southwest Conference in 1992, but it appeared to have finally found just that under Petrino, who was hired after leaving the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons during the season in 2007.
The Razorbacks turned into an offensive powerhouse under Petrino, leading the league in scoring and total offense last season.
After winning 10 games and reaching the school’s first Bowl Championship Series game in 2010, losing to Ohio State, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011, capped by a Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State.
Still, Arkansas has yet to win the SEC title, losing in the conference championship game three times.
Information from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was included in this story.