Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Wisconsin's Bielema new head Razorback
Former Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema holds up the Big Ten Championship trophy after Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 70-31 on Saturday in Indianapolis.
FAYETTEVILLE The University of Arkansas stepped outside the South and hired Bret Bielema on Tuesday to become its 32nd head football coach.
Bielema, who grew up on a pig farm in rural Illinois, will now be calling the Hogs and coaching the Razorbacks.
Bielema, 42, has a sevenyear record of 68-24 at the University of Wisconsin and has led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowl games. His most recent team is 8-5 and earned a Rose Bowl berth by defeating the University of Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.
Bielema met with his Wisconsin team Tuesday evening and flew into Fayetteville’s Drake Field shortly after 9 p.m. He will be introduced in a 4 p.m. news conference today on the Arkansas campus and will address the football team before that.
Multiple media outlets in Wisconsin reported Tuesday that Bielema is not likely to coach the Badgers’ Rose Bowl appearance against Stanford.
Arkansas officials are expected to release Bielema’s letter of agreement today. He is expected to receive at minimum a five-year contract in excess of $3 million per year. His salary at Wisconsin was $2.7 million this season, and he has a $1 million buyout in his contract, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, payable in the next 120 days.
The decision to hire Bielema came as a surprise in college football circles because Bielema’s name had not been associated with UA’s search. UA Athletic Director Jeff Long was believed to have considered several coaches, including Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Texas Christian University’s Gary Patterson, Louisiana State’s Les Miles and most recently Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.
Bielema could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but UA issued a news release in which he was quoted as saying he was “humbled” and “honored” to be the Razorbacks’ coach.
“During my conversation with Jeff he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program,” Bielema said in the release. “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.”
Long, in the same release, praised Bielema for his leadership and development of athletes.
“Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a commitment to competing for a national championship with a program known for discipline, honesty and integrity,” Long said in the release. “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.”
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez released a statement saying he was surprised by Bielema’s decision.
“I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas,” the statement read. “He did a great job for us during his seven years as a head coach, both on and off the field.”
Bielema became the first coach to lead a team to three consecutive Rose Bowls since the University of Michigan did it under Bo Schembechler in 1977-79.
Bielema, who has a background on the defensive side of the ball, represents a notable departure from former Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino, whose teams were known for their passing and offensive production.
The Badgers rank 12th in the NCAA in total defense this season, allowing an average of 321 yards per game, and 62nd in total offense with an average of 400.4 yards per game. Wisconsin also featured a formidable running attack, which averaged 238 yards per game in 2012.
Bielema replaces interim coach John L. Smith, who agreed to a 10-month contract in April and oversaw an injury-riddled 4-8 season after the Razorbacks were picked early on as contenders in the Southeastern Conference West.
The choice of Bielema, who has spent the entirety of his playing and coaching career in the Midwest, is an interesting one. Long has emphasized the need for Arkansas to strengthen its recruiting in the fertile fields of Texas.
Bielema grew up on a farm outside of Prophetstown, Ill., which he discussed on an episode of the Big Ten Network’s Step Into My Office.
“Grew up on a farm ... 2,500 head of hogs,” Bielema said. “Very simple farm home that had a barn and several other buildings attached to it. We didn’t do a lot of farming. It was mainly just about the livestock, the pigs.”
Bielema, a team co-captain at the University of Iowa as a senior in 1992, has only modest ties to Arkansas. In his first season as Wisconsin’s head coach in 2006, his Badgers defeated Arkansas 17-14 in the Capital One Bowl.
He also is connected to the coaching tree of Hayden Fry, who worked one season at UA under longtime coach Frank Broyles in 1961 before embarking on a lengthy head-coaching career. Bielema walked on as a linebacker at the University of Iowa under Fry before earning a scholarship there and becoming a four-year letterman, playing mostly on the defensive line.
Bielema took over at Wisconsin in 2006 from Alvarez, who built the Badgers into a power before becoming the school’s athletic director, and kept the program on a roll. His first team won a school record of 12 games, capped by its victory over UA, and the Badgers went on to three more bowl games before beginning its current streak of Rose Bowl appearances.
The University of Wisconsin has qualified for a school-record 11 consecutive bowl games.
Bielema is a relative newlywed, marrying the former Jen Hielsberg in March.
Front Section, Pages 1 on 12/05/2012