Bret Bielema back in Big Ten as new Illinois football head coach

"Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me."
Nov 18, 2017; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema talks with quarterback Austin Allen (8) during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mississippi State Bulldogs won the game 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Bret Bielema is back where he belongs.

The former Wisconsin Badgers and Arkansas Razorbacks head coach is returning to the Big Ten as the new head coach of Illinois football. He replaces Lovie Smith, who was recently fired after going 17-39 in five seasons.

“Bret Bielema is a proven winner,” athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “With three Big Ten championships to his credit, few coaches can match his familiarity with, and success within, the Big Ten Conference. In our conversations, it became clear to me that he is a life-long learner who is continually looking to grow and improve.”

While Bielema’s five-year stint with Arkansas was seen as a disappointment, his seven seasons at Wisconsin were extremely successful. He went 68-24 overall and won three-straight Big Ten championships with the Badgers. The Illinois native and former Iowa Hawkeyes player spent the last three years in the NFL as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots and New York Giants.

“Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me, and I can’t be any more excited about the opportunity in front of me with the Fighting Illini,” Bielema said in a statement. “We want to build a program that makes Illini Nation proud and regain the passion that I’ve seen when Illinois wins.”

Bielema also appeared on College GameDay to discuss his new position, which he did from inside his car.

“This is about a chance to take Illinois to a level — during my lifetime I’ve seen them have success, and obviously had some times where they’ve not had much success.”

It’s a winning move for Illinois, who needed to make a splash to keep up with their contemporaries like Northwestern, Indiana, and Rutgers, all of whom are moving in positive directions. But will Bret be able to recapture his earlier Big Ten success without the recruiting power of Wisconsin? We’ll soon find out.


About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to