Illinois Hires Bret Bielema to Replace Lovie Smith as Head Coach

The University of Illinois has hired former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema as its next head football coach, the school announced early Saturday.

Bielema, currently an assistant coach with the New York Giants, will take over the program after the school announced that it was parting ways with former head coach Lovie Smith earlier this month. He inked a six-year contract with the Fighting Illini, with an annual salary of $4.2 million, the school announced as a press release.

He will not be serving as head coach on Saturday when Illinois takes on Penn State in State College, but he will be at the game, the school says.

“Bret Bielema is a proven winner. With three Big Ten championships to his credit, few coaches can match his familiarity with, and success within, the Big Ten conference,” Illini Athletic Director Josh Whitman said in a statement.

Bielema served as head coach at the University of Wisconsin for seven seasons between 2006 and 2012, posting a record of 68-24 with the Badgers. He led the team to three straight Rose Bowl appearances, but opted to leave the school following the 2012 season to take the job as head coach at Arkansas.

His run with the Razorbacks proved somewhat less successful than his tenure in Madison, as he posted a 29-34 record in Fayetteville. He did lead the Razorbacks to three straight bowl appearances, but was fired following a 4-8 season in 2017.

After his dismissal from the Arkansas program, Bielema served as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots for two seasons, then served as the outside linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant for the Giants during the 2020 season.

 Bielema says his priority will be developing the school’s recruiting efforts within the state of Illinois, something that the team has struggled with under many of its head coaches in recent years.

“We want the young men playing football in the state of Illinois, from Freeport to Cairo and from Quincy to Danville, dreaming of wearing the orange and blue and playing at Memorial Stadium,” he said.

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