Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorback Foundation settles lawsuit with Bret Bielema
Bret Bielema is shown in this file photo. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorback Foundation announced Friday it has settled its months-long lawsuit with former University of Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema.
The foundation will pay Bielema a final buyout payment of $3,529,167. That will bring the foundation’s total amount to $8.085 million in buyout pay to Bielema, which is equal to 25 1/2 months of severance payments.
The foundation will be released from $3.85 million in buyout payments.
In 2018, Bielema and the foundation agreed to an $11.935 million buyout.
“We believe the resolution of this matter is in the best interest of the Razorback Foundation and our membership,” Razorback Foundation executive director Scott Varady said in a statement. “We wish Coach Bielema and his family the best moving forward.”
Bielema, who was hired as head coach at the University of Illinois in December, filed a lawsuit against the foundation last summer demanding to be paid more than $7 million. The Razorback Foundation filed a counter suit demanding Bielema repay more than $4.5 million in buyout payments he had already received.
At the heart of the dispute was whether Bielema attempted to maximize his earning potential to offset the foundation’s financial obligation to him while he worked as a special assistant for the NFL’s New England Patriots in 2018. That role, as well as a draft advisory role with the Patriots the same year, paid Bielema a combined $125,000, according to court records.
The foundation’s buyout to Bielema could have been offset after the first $150,000 Bielema was paid in 2018. The foundation stopped making payments to Bielema in January 2019, citing breach of contract.
In April 2019, the Patriots promoted Bielema to a full-time assistant coaching role that paid $250,000, and he worked for the New York Giants as an assistant coach in 2020 at a salary of $400,000, according to court records.
Bielema was hired at Illinois less than two weeks before his buyout period with the Razorback Foundation was set to expire. The Illinois job will pay him an annual salary of $4.2 million, according to court records.
A trial date in the case had been scheduled for January 2022.
The 10-month legal dispute in the U.S. District Court of Western Arkansas included several filings on behalf of Bielema and the foundation, as well as counsel for the Patriots, who persuaded the court to keep email correspondence between New England owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick from being made public.
Bielema was fired as Arkansas’ coach at the conclusion of a 4-8 season in 2017. Bielema coached the Razorbacks to a 29-34 record and three bowl games in five seasons.
Following the Razorbacks’ 31-7 victory over Texas in the Texas Bowl to cap a 7-6 season in 2014, then-UA athletics director Jeff Long signed Bielema to a six-year contract extension through December 2020.
“I am pleased to announce the resolution of our differences with the Razorback Foundation,” Bielema said in a statement. “We wish everyone in Razorback Athletics nothing but the best in the years to come.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately listed the number of months the foundation's final payment would be worth. It has been corrected.
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