It hasn’t taken Bret Bielema very long for Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman to feel confident he made the right hire. Just a few months into the job, the newest Illini head coach has lived up to expectations.

Before Illinois’ season finale against Penn State in 2020, Whitman made the decision to part ways with Lovie Smith after five seasons. In that timeframe, the Illini played in just one bowl game and finished with a less-than-impressive 2-6 mark the close out last season.

When Bielema was hired, there was some concerns about whether he’d be the right guy for the job. His time at Arkansas didn’t go quite as planned, partly due to incredibly high expectations. But as Illinois prepares for its first season under Bielema, Whitman has sseen enough to know the right guy is in place.

“Just could not be more impressed with Coach Bielema during the first six months of his tenure,” Whitman said, according to Jeremy Werner of Illini Inquirer. “He has been everything I hoped he would be and, candidly, quite a bit more.”

Bielema is a native of Illinois with head coaching experience in the B1G. While leading Wisconsin from 2006-12, he posted a 68-24 record and led the Badgers to four double-digit-win seasons and won three straight conference titles from 2010-12.

Already, Bielema has put a heavy emphasis on recruiting the state of Illinois and building better relationships with high school coaches throughout the state. It’s been music to the ears of Illinois fans, as well as Whitman.

The first major test for Bielema comes immediately, as Illinois hosts Nebraska on Saturday, Aug. 28 in Week 0.