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Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

In its second stunning hiring this year, Arkansas tabbed Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to take over a program that went into a tailspin after former coach Bobby Petrino was fired for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - In its second stunning hiring this year, Arkansas tabbed Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to take over a program that went into a tailspin after former coach Bobby Petrino was fired for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department.

The Razorbacks released a statement Tuesday night saying Bielema will leave the Badgers after seven seasons. The announcement came minutes after he met with players at Wisconsin, and he'll be introduced at an afternoon news conference in Fayetteville on Wednesday.

"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."

A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information hasn't been released publicly, says the deal is for six years and $3.2 million annually.

Bielema replaces interim coach John L. Smith, who was hired after Petrino was fired. Long announced after the season that Smith wouldn't return.

Barry Alvarez's hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, Bielema was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit-win seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas at the Capital One Bowl in his first season.

He is leaving the Big Ten for the SEC and a Razorbacks 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.

Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach than what the Razorbacks have become accustomed to. Arkansas continually ranked among the Southeastern Conference's best passing teams under Petrino. Bielema, meanwhile, 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."

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' long-standing single-season record of 39 touchdowns last year, and this year became the FBS career leader in touchdowns. He currently has 82 touchdowns after running for three Saturday night in the Big Ten title game against Nebraska - a 70-31 romp that secured the Badgers third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, where they will play Stanford on Jan. 1.

The 42-year-old Bielema 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, 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."

The Illinois native takes over a program still reeling following the Petrino scandal, one eager for stability and leadership.

"I'm excited about this decision," Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel tweeted.

The Razorbacks improved their win total in four straight seasons under Petrino, including a 21-5 mark in 2010-11, 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. The married father of four initially lied about being alone during the wreck, later admitting to riding with his mistress - a former Arkansas volleyball player he had hired to work in the athletic department.

Smith, who had been an assistant the last three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to guide a team that returned first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed the personable Smith back with open arms.

The season 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 win total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

"It's very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible team," LSU coach Les Miles said following the Tigers' win over the Razorbacks in the season finale. "Watching the talent there, (it's) very capable."

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 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 BCS bowl game in 2010, losing to Ohio State, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011, capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.

Still, Arkansas has yet to win the SEC, losing in the conference championship game three times.

While the country watched closely to see how Arkansas would react following Petrino's dismissal, Smith made headlines of his own throughout the season. The former Michigan State and Louisville coach filed for bankruptcy during the season, revealing $40.7 million in debt he blamed on bad land deals.

He was under far more fire from Arkansas fans for the mounting losses and it will be up to Bielema to turn things around in the loaded SEC West, with Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M.

Long said during the season that the new coach would be tasked with building on the recent success at the school, which is looking into expanding the 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium and is currently building an 80,000-square-foot football operations center.

"The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes," Bielema said. "This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of."

Official release from University of Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls by winning each of the last three Big Ten titles, was named the 32nd head football coach in Arkansas history Tuesday, it was announced by Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long in a press release.

“Bret Bielema is an exceptional leader of young men and an outstanding football coach who has proven his program is centered on establishing an unshakable foundation that emphasizes the development of each student-athlete as an individual,” Long said.

“Coach Bielema has led his team to a historic run of championships while seeing a record number of student-athletes recognized for academic achievement. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a commitment to competing for a national championship with a program known for discipline, honesty and integrity. His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans. He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”

Bielema brings a 68-24 (.739) career record as a head coach, the ninth-highest winning percentage among active coaches in the NCAA with at least five years of experience, built behind strong offense, stifling defense and all-around disciplined play. He is one of only 12 active head coaches and 16 overall to have led a team to at least three BCS games. His 40 wins over the last four seasons are tied for the most of any four-year stretch in Wisconsin history.

“I am very humbled and honored to become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks,” said Bielema. “During my conversation with Jeff (Long) he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program. It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals. The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes. This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of.”

In 2012, Bielema guided Wisconsin to its third straight Big Ten championship and the Badgers became the first team to represent the Big Ten in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan qualified following the 1976-78 seasons. In his most recent game as Wisconsin head coach, Bielema led the Badgers to a 70-31 win over No. 14 Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin became the second team to score 70 points in a conference championship game, matching the number scored by Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game. Wisconsin also had two 200-yard rushers in the same game for the first time in school history.

Also during the 2012 season, running back Montee Ball broke the NCAA career records for total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Ball has scored 82 total touchdowns, breaking the previous record of 78, and 76 rushing touchdowns, besting the old record of 73. As a team, the Badgers rank in the top 25 in the country in rushing offense, total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and pass defense.

In Bielema’s seven seasons as head coach, he has had 16 players earn All-America honors, including 10 first-team All-Americans. Wisconsin also had two Outland Trophy winners, one winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and one Lott IMPACT Trophy winner as well as finalists for numerous other individual awards, including the Heisman Trophy. In the last five years, 16 Badgers were taken in the NFL Draft, including three in the first round.

Bielema, who served as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator for two seasons before becoming head coach, was on staff as UW compiled a 55-6 record at Camp Randall Stadium in his nine years. The Badgers won their first 16 home games under Bielema, the second-longest home winning streak in school history.

In his first two seasons as head coach, Bielema led Wisconsin to 21 wins. Only two other men in Big Ten history, Michigan's Fielding Yost (22) and Ohio State's Jim Tressel (21), have guided their teams to as many as 21 wins in their first two seasons as Big Ten head coaches.

Bielema coached Wisconsin to victories in 17 of his first 18 games. That represents the second-best start to a head coaching career in Big Ten history. Only Michigan's Yost, who went 55-0-1 from 1901-05, had a better beginning to a career.

In 2011, the Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, defeating Michigan State 42-39 to advance to the Rose Bowl for the second straight season. Wisconsin, winners of the Leaders Division, finished the season with an 11-3 record and recorded 11 regular-season victories for just the third time in school history, all under Bielema’s watch.

Wisconsin’s high-powered offense ranked sixth in the country in scoring in 2011 behind quarterback Russell Wilson and Ball. They became the first teammates in FBS history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and run for at least 30 scores in the same season. Ball, a first-team All-American, was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and tied Barry Sanders' FBS record for touchdowns scored in a season with 39 and broke Sanders’ NCAA single-season scoring record with 236 points. Offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler also earned first-team All-America recognition. The Badgers had a school-record nine players receive first-team All-Big Ten honors.

In 2010, the Badgers won a share of the 12th Big Ten championship in school history and first since 1999. UW tied a school record with seven conference victories and earned their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1999. Wisconsin finished the season with an 11-2 record and ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press Poll. The Badgers were explosive on offense, setting a school record and ranking fifth in the country in scoring offense averaging 41.5 points per game. Their 45.2 points per game in conference play was the second-highest average in Big Ten history. Wisconsin nearly became the first team in FBS history to have three running backs gain 1,000 yards in the same season as James White finished with 1,052 yards, John Clay had 1,012 and Ball ran for 996.

Wisconsin was the most disciplined team in the country in 2010, leading the nation in both fewest turnovers with nine and fewest penalties per game with an average of 3.15. UW also ranked in the top 10 nationally in pass efficiency, third-down conversions, fourth-down conversions, red zone offense, time of possession and turnover margin. The Badgers were one of just six teams in the country to rank among the top 25 in both total offense and total defense.

Wisconsin players took home several national awards in 2010, including the Outland Trophy (Gabe Carimi), the Lott IMPACT Trophy (J.J. Watt) and the Unitas Golden Arm Award (Scott Tolzien). Carimi, Clay, Lance Kendricks, John Moffitt and Watt were all named All-Americans, giving Wisconsin its most All-America honorees since 1999. Bielema also garnered national acclaim for the Badgers' tremendous season. He was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson, Bear Bryant and Home Depot Coach of the Year awards as well as a semifinalist for the Joseph V. Paterno Coach of the Year Award.

Eighteen players received All-Big Ten recognition, including five first-teamers. Carimi, Kendricks, Moffitt, Watt and Antonio Fenelus were all named first-team All-Big Ten, while Carimi was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and White was chosen as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Wisconsin’s success under Bielema translated to the classroom as well. UW had a record-tying 22 members of the football team honored as Academic All-Big Ten in 2010, the second consecutive season Wisconsin had 22 players named Academic All-Big Ten. Before 2009, the school record was 19, set in Bielema's second season.

In 2009, Wisconsin won 10 games for just the sixth time in school history, capping the season with a win in the Champs Sports Bowl over No. 14 Miami. The Badgers started the season 5-0 before dropping a pair of games to teams ranked in the top 15. Wisconsin then won five of its last six games to finish the season 10-3.

After not being ranked to start the season, UW finished the year ranked 16th in both polls.

In addition to team success, a number of Badger individuals earned honors in 2009. Running back John Clay was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year while linebacker Chris Borland took home conference freshman of the year honors. A total of five Badgers were named first-team All-Big Ten. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, rushing defense, sacks, time of possession and red zone offense. In the national rankings, UW ranked among the top 10 in rushing defense, third-down conversions, sacks, time of possession and red zone offense.

In 2008, Bielema guided the Badgers to a school-record seventh consecutive bowl game. UW began the season 3-0, including a road win at No. 21 Fresno State, Wisconsin's first road win over a ranked non-conference opponent since 1958. Bielema took the Badgers to New Year's Day bowl games in each of first his two campaigns as head coach. In 2007, the Badgers were 9-4 overall and Bielema was a semifinalist for the George Munger Award, given by the Maxwell Football Club to the national coach of the year. The 2007 Badgers fought through key injuries and other forms of adversity to win four of their last five games and earn an invitation to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. Tight end Travis Beckum and kicker Taylor Mehlhaff earned All-America honors.

Bielema guided the Badgers to a 12-1 overall record and 7-1 mark in the Big Ten during his rookie year in 2006. Wisconsin capped that record-setting season with a 17-14 win over Arkansas in the 2007 Capital One Bowl. No previous Wisconsin team had won more than 11 games in a season. In addition, Bielema became just the third rookie head coach in NCAA Bowl Subdivision history to pilot his team to 12 victories. His efforts were rewarded when he was named the 2006 Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year. Bielema also was named one of five finalists for the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year Award and was a finalist for the 2006 Schutt Sports Division IA Coach of the Year Award.

Wisconsin surprised most observers outside the program by setting school records for overall wins (12) and regular-season victories (11), as well as tying the UW mark for conference victories (seven). The Badgers did it with a defensive unit that ended the 2006 regular season ranked among the top three nationally in pass defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. And they did it with an offense led by a pair of seniors (QB John Stocco and All-America tackle Joe Thomas), a young but talented offensive line, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year (P.J. Hill) at tailback and an emerging corps of receivers, including John Mackey Award semifinalist Travis Beckum.

Bielema was Wisconsin's defensive coordinator in 2004 and 2005, a period in which the program produced a 19-6 record under former head coach Barry Alvarez. The 2004 Badgers were ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense and ninth in total defense. The 2005 club, which earned Wisconsin's first shutout since 1999, finished its 10-win season with a 24-10 victory over No. 7 Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, limiting the high-powered Tigers to just 236 yards of total offense.

During Bielema's two years guiding the Badger defense, two players earned first-team All-America honors and two others were first-team All-Big Ten selections. While coaching the Badgers' linebackers, Bielema developed Mark Zalewski and Dontez Sanders, both of whom earned honorable mention all-conference acclaim.

Bielema was co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State under Bill Snyder in 2002 and 2003. The Wildcats were 22-6 during Bielema's time in Manhattan and finished in the top 10 nationally both seasons in scoring and total defense. The Wildcats won their first Big 12 title in 2003. Among Bielema's standout players at Kansas State were first-team All-American Josh Buhl, 2003 NFL second-round draft pick Terry Pierce and second-team All-Big 12 selection Bryan Hickman.

Prior to his years at Kansas State, Bielema spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Iowa, where he worked for head coaches Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. The 1997 Hawkeyes posted three shutouts and ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring defense.
Bielema lettered from 1989-92 at Iowa after joining the program as a walk-on. He earned a scholarship after his first year and was a member of Iowa's 1990 Big Ten championship team. A starter as a junior in 1991, he was a team co-captain as a senior. Bielema signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks and later completed his playing career with the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League.

A 1992 graduate of Iowa with a degree in marketing, Bielema is married to the former Jen Hielsberg.
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