Former Badgers head coach Bret Bielema signs six-year deal with Illinois

Wisconsin Illinois Football
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst, left, and Illinois head coach Bret Bielema meet after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Champaign, Ill. Wisconsin won 24-0. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Badgers fans will have to get used to seeing their former head coach on the opposing sideline.

Bret Bielema signed a new six-year contract with the University of Illinois, Illini Athletic Director Josh Whitman announced Tuesday. Bielema was Wisconsin’s head coach from 2006 to 2012 and led the Badgers to three-straight Big Ten titles.

Bielema left Madison to become coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. He spent five years in Fayetteville, however, he was unable to translate his Big Ten success to the Southeastern Conference and was fired in 2017 while walking off the field following a loss at home to the Missouri Tigers.

Bielema spent the next few years as a member of the New England Patriots staff and was an outside linebackers coach for the New York Giants in 2020. In December 2020, he returned to college football to succeed Lovie Smith as head coach at Illinois.

The Illini finished 5-7 in Bielema’s first year at the helm, but experienced a turnaround this year. Illinois finished 8-4 in 2022, tied for second in the Big Ten West, the program’s best season in 15 years. The team also appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time ever this season.

Bielema’s new salary rises to $6 million per year with annual raises and incentives. the contract also includes up to four one-year extensions provided certain performance thresholds are met.