Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

Barry Alvarez starts process to find new head coach
Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

Bret Bielema is taking his brand of power football to Arkansas, leaving Wisconsin after seven seasons.

Arkansas released a statement Tuesday saying Bielema has agreed to a deal to take over the program reeling following the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino.

A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information hasn’t been released publicly, said the deal is for six years and $3.2 million annually. Bielema made $2.5 million a season at Wisconsin.

Bielema isn’t expected to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl against Stanford on Jan. 1.

The Razorbacks were 4-8 this year, and Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of athletics at the University of Arkansas, announced after the season that interim coach John L. Smith would not return.

Smith replaced Bobby Petrino earlier this year after a scandal in which Petrino hired his mistress to work in the school’s football department.

Bielema was 68-24 with the Badgers, including a 17-14 win over Arkansas in the 2007 Capital One Bowl.

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.


“Coach Bielema has led his team to a historic run of championships while seeing a record number of student-athletes recognized for academic achievement,” Long said in a statement. “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.”

In a statement released Tuesday, University of Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said he was “very surprised” when Bielema told him he was taking the offer from Arkansas.

Alvarez said it’s his responsibility to ensure that the football program continues at a high level, and he has already started the process of trying to find a new head coach.

“Along with finding a new coach, my other main objective is to make sure that our student-athletes, specifically our seniors playing in their final game as Badgers, have a tremendous experience in the Rose Bowl. We will do everything within our power to make that happen,” Alvarez said in a statement.


In a statement, Bielema said he is humbled and honored to become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

“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,” Bielema said in a statement.

Bielema, 42, had been head coach at Wisconsin since 2006. Details of his new deal weren’t known.


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.

Bielema addressed the players at a team meeting Tuesday evening at Camp Randall. The meeting lasted for about 20 minutes, then the Badgers filed out of Camp Randall.

Most players declined to comment, but some shared their reactions with WISC-TV. While they all said they were surprised when the heard the news, they offered kind words for their now former coach.

“Honestly, I think, as men, we’re all proud of him. He has goals in his life that he wants to accomplish, so go get ’em,” said Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.

“He just expressed that it was the best opportunity for him. I think that everybody faces choices in life, and you need to do what’s best for you in those choices. I think he’s done tremendous things for the program, and I think he’s left us in a good spot,” said Wisconsin center Travis Frederick. 

The players also said Bielema will not coach in the Rose Bowl game.

None of the students who WISC-TV spoke with at Union South on Tuesday said they were disappointed by Bielema’s departure.

Some students said they were happy Bielema is leaving, with one student saying it’s a great day for Badger football.

Others were indifferent, saying Bielema has had a successful run but this year was a step back.

“For me personally this year, he’s been an OK coach. I’m not really that broken up over it. I’m pretty sure we can find a different coach to replace him that will be a little better than him,” said Alexander Lopez, a UW-Madison freshman.

“I feel like he’s never had a huge following on campus among students, although it’s hard to argue with the success he’s had. I don’t think he necessarily comes across the best to students or fans or fans in general, but it’s definitely not a good thing to lose a coach that’s taken you to three straight Rose Bowls,” said Sam Krabbenhoft, a UW-Madison freshman.

Everyone said the news took them by surprise.