Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Bielema introduced as Arkansas head coach
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/05/2012-- Bret Bielema, the new University of Arkansas head football coach, speaks to the media during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
FAYETTEVILLE Nearly a quarter-century after leaving his parents' hog farm, Bret Bielema arrived in hog heaven Wednesday.
Bielema and his wife, Jen, were introduced in front of hundreds of fans and media at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. He referenced growing up in the midwest several times during a humor-filled news conference, saying his childhood on an Illinois farm shaped the tough-nosed mentality his teams reflect on a football field.
"Just to clarify, that was my first public pig sooie," Bielema said. "I did it from the age of 4 to 18, but my only partners were pigs.
"Today is an opportunity to chase a dream."
Bielema was hired Tuesday after spending seven seasons as head coach at Wisconsin. He led the Badgers to a 68-24 record and three consecutive Big Ten championships.
Wisconsin (8-5) will face Stanford in the Rose Bowl next month. Bielema said he will not coach in that game.
Bielema's hiring signifies the end of a turbulent year at Arkansas. He is the 32nd head coach in school history, but the third in less than eight months.
After leading the Razorbacks to a school-record 11 wins last season, Bobby Petrino was fired in April when it was discovered he hired a woman to the football staff with whom he had an affair. John L. Smith was hired to an interim basis, but the Razorbacks never reached their preseason No. 10 potential, finishing the season 4-8.
"I can't wait to stand in front of you and be the favorite," Bielema said. "Right now we're going to embrace being the underdog. We're going to throw two arms around it, we're gonna kiss is and make it feel good.
"I'm not going to promise you anything. I will tell you I'm here because I want to give you something you've never had."
Bielema signed a 6-year contract with Arkansas worth $3.2 million annually. According to an adjusted USA Today survey, he will be the 10th-highest paid coach in college football.
UA athletics director Jeff Long said Bielema's on-field success and academic success stood out during the coaching search. Wisconsin's football team had an Academic Progress Rate score of 975 during the last reporting period - 45 points above the national benchmark.
"I was looking for someone who shared the passion for success of fans, embraces high expectations and leads with honesty, integrity and class," Long said.
Long said Bielema reached out to him following the Petrino firing with a handwritten note of encouragement. Bielema was one four candidates Long said he interviewed face-to-face for the Arkansas opening, but declined to mention the names of the others.