CHAMPAIGN – A three-time Big-Ten Champion is headed to Champaign.
The University of Illinois announced the hire of Bret Bielema (pronounced BEEL-Ma) as the next Head Coach of the Football program Saturday morning. Speculation around Bielema’s hire had circulated roughly 48 hours prior to the announcemnet by various outlets.
“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,” said Whitman. “In our conversations, it became clear to me that he is a life-long learner who is continually looking to grow and improve, and he has enjoyed unrivaled mentorship from some of the game’s most distinguished coaches, including Hayden Fry, Kirk Ferentz, Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, and Bill Belichick – all of them current or future Hall of Famers.
Bielema is a native of Prophetstown, Illinois and led Wisconsin to three Big Ten championships before leaving the program for Arkansas, where he helped lead the Razorbacks to three bowl games in five seasons.
“Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me, and I can’t be any more excited about the opportunity in front of me with the Fighting Illini,” Bielema said Saturday. “We want to build a program that makes Illini Nation proud and regain the passion that I’ve seen when Illinois wins. 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. I look forward to re-connecting with the high school coaches around the state making it clear we intend to keep our players home.
Bielema’s contract is a six-year span beginning with an annual salary of $4.2 million. He will begin his duties at Illinois immediately and will attend the game Saturday (Dec. 19) as a guest of Whitman’s when Illinois plays at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania.