FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Bret Bielema is taking his brand of power football to Arkansas, leaving Wisconsin after seven seasons.
Arkansas released a statement Tuesday night saying Bielema has agreed to a deal to take over the reeling program following the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino.
A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information hasn't been released publicly, says the deal is for six years and $3.2 million annually.
Bielema, Barry Alvarez's hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit win seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas at the Capital One Bowl in his first season.
“His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans,” Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said in a statement. “He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”
Bielema is leaving the Big Ten for the SEC and a Razorbacks program that opened the year with hopes of challenging for a national championship only to get mired in the Petrino scandal before stumbling to a 4-8 finish.
The move was the second stunning hire this year at Arkansas, which brought in John L. Smith as the interim coach after firing Petrino for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department. Long announced after the season that Smith wouldn't return.
Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach than what the Razorbacks have become accustomed to. Arkansas continually ranked among the Southeastern Conference's best passing teams under Petrino while Bielema is known for his dominant offensive lines and slew of running backs.
“During my conversation with Jeff (Long), he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program,” Bielema said in a statement. “It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals.”
The 42-year-old Bielema was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for two years before being promoted to head coach in 2006. He played for Iowa and started his coaching career there as an assistant under Hayden Fry and later Kirk Ferentz.
“I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas,” said Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director and former coach. “He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas.”
Bielema met with his Wisconsin players Tuesday night.
“I guess I was a little surprised, but it's a very good opportunity for him,” starting center Travis Frederick said. “I'm sure he'll do well.”
Most players declined to comment as reporters waited to talk to them. Some said Bielema urged them to remain focused on the Rose Bowl.
Frederick also said he was unsure who would lead the team going forward, and Alvarez said in a statement that he has a responsibility to ensure the program continues at a high level and that he has already started looking for a replacement.
Some players took to Twitter to lobby for Paul Chryst, the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator in his first season as head coach at Pittsburgh. Offensive lineman Ryan Groy tweeted “Paul Chryst! Paul Chryst!”
“I understand the speculation surrounding my name given today's developments,” Chryst said in a statement released by Pitt. “I am committed to the Pitt football program and the University of Pittsburgh. I am focusing all my time and energy on our team's bowl game preparation and recruiting a great group of young men to join our program and this outstanding university. We are working hard every day to re-establish this program and I am excited about the future of Pitt football.”
The search for Wisconsin's next coach will be the first for the school since Alvarez was brought in for the 1990 season.
Still, quarterback Joel Stave noted coaching turnovers are common in college football, even if it is foreign to those on the Wisconsin roster.
“It's something that's new for me. I haven't really experienced this,” Stave said. “But it's something that we're just going to work through.”
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