Bret Bielema is returning home: Illinois hires him as their head football coach

By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher

The Illinois Fighting Illini have hired Bret Bielema as their new head football coach. He was the front-runner for the job all along.

Bielema comes to Illinois after spending one season as the New York Giants outside linebackers coach. He also was their senior defensive assistant.

New Illinois Fighting Illini football coach Bret Bielema stands next to Athletic Director Josh Whitman
Bret Bielema stands next to Athletic Director Josh Whitman (Photo by the Illinois Athletic Department)

The 50-year-old replaces Lovie Smith, who was fired on December 13th. Smith spent five seasons leading the program.

Related: Blazers win their second Conference USA Championship

“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. “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.

“We will build an outstanding staff for both player development and recruiting. The University of Illinois has incredible facilities and is known as one of the world’s outstanding academic institutions. We will hold the young men on our team responsible both on and off the field while coaching them to be champions in life. Jen and I, along with our girls, are excited to get to Champaign-Urbana and get started on the journey. Go Illini!”

Related: Cardinals win sixth MAC Championship, defeats Bulls

With this move, Bielema returns to his home state. He was born in Prophetstown, Illinois.

Where Bielema was born is 2 1/2-3 hours from his new employer.

This is Bielema’s third head coaching opportunity. He previously served as the Wisconsin Badgers and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Related: Ducks win fourth Pac-12 Conference Championship, defeats Trojans

He last served as a head coach in college football in 2017. After departing the college ranks, he spent two seasons with the New England Patriots before joining the Giants.

As a college football head coach, he is 97-58. When he led the Razorbacks, he struggled to their standards.

Bielema was 29-34 in five seasons. He had three winning seasons at the school.

Related: Azusa Pacific has made the decision to shut down their 55-year-old football program

However, he did not have more than eight wins in a season.

When Bielema was the Badgers head coach, he had four seasons, where he had more than 10 wins in a season. In his first season in 2006, he guided the team to a 12-1 record, which was his best record at the school.

Bielema had three straight seasons with 10 or more wins. Those were the 2009, 2010, and 2012 season.

Related: Vanderbilt hires alum Lea, as their head football coach

He guided the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowl appearances. Wisconsin lost two of the games with Bielema as their head coach.

Then, in 2012, before their Rose Bowl game, he departed to take the Arkansas job.

“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,” Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. “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.

Related: Auburn administration fires Gus Malzahn after eight seasons

“Importantly to me, Bret, a native of our great state, grew up an Illini fan and is committed to seeing the football program at our state’s flagship grow and prosper,” continued Whitman. “Bret’s blue collar work ethic and genuine, authentic manner will allow him to form strong connections to his players and staff and positive relationships in our community and our state. These qualities, combined with his commitment to education and his track record of success, give me great confidence in his leadership of our football program.”

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