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Bret Bielema

Sep 10, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema on the sidelines of Saturday’s game with the Virginia Cavaliers in the second half at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Bret Bielema was unceremoniously fired on the field after a 48-45 loss against rival Mizzou to close out the 2017 regular season at Arkansas. It ended a lackluster tenure for Bielema in Fayetteville that saw him go 29-34 in 5 years as the Head Hog.

After 3 years on NFL coaching staffs as an assistant on the defensive side of the ball, Bielema resurfaced and has made an immediate impact at Illinois. The Illini had fallen into irrelevance during the tenures of Tim Beckman and Lovie Smith. Bielema has brought the program back to a level of respectability in only 2 years in Champaign.

After posting a 5-7 record in Year 1 in 2021, Bielema and the Illini went an impressive 8-5 in 2022 and were in the hunt for the B1G West title until the final week of the regular season.

Though the Illini eventually lost an emotional bowl game against Mississippi State, a team playing its first game since the tragic death of coach Mike Leach, it was a season to remember (the first one in a long time) for the Illini. Bielema got the pleasure of going to his former school, Wisconsin, and beating the Badgers on their home turf, 34-10. The Illini also scored a big win at Nebraska in 2022. At one point, the Illini won 6 games in a row before suffering a 3-game losing streak.

This is hardly the first time Bielema has made an impact in the Big Ten. His first tenure as a head coach came at Wisconsin, where he put together an impressive record over 7 seasons. After only 2 seasons as the Badgers’ defensive coordinator under then-head coach Barry Alvarez, Bielema got his first shot as a head coach and made an immediate impact.

They say you never want to be the guy who replaces the guy, but Bielema did a great job replacing Barry Alvarez, a Wisconsin legend. He went 12-1 in his first year as the Badgers’ head coach in 2006 after Alvarez retired, winning the Capital One Bowl that season.

Overall, he finished with a strong 68-24 overall record in 7 years with the Badgers, including a very respectable 37-19 mark against B1G competition. But he failed to win a Rose Bowl during his time in Madison, going 0-2 in the Granddaddy of Them All. Alvarez went 3-0 in the Rose Bowl in his tenure as Wisconsin’s head coach. (Bielema’s 2012 team also qualified for the Rose Bowl, but Bielema left for the Arkansas job before the bowl game.)

What does the future hold for Bielema and the Illini? Will he continue to win in the Big Ten, unlike his time in the SEC? We’ll find out what happens in Champaign in the coming years, but Bielema has his program on the right track, it seems.

Bret Bielema’s Coaching Experience

Head Coaching Record

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