University of Wisconsin head football coach Bret Bielema is leaving the program to take the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas, UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez confirmed Tuesday evening.
Arkansas’ Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long also confirmed Tuesday night Bielema had accepted the offer to become the head coach.
A source close to the program said Bielema will not coach in the Rose Bowl against Stanford Jan. 1.
“I am very humbled and honored to become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks,” Bielema said in a statement. “During my conversation with Jeff (Long), he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program. It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals. The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together, and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes. This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of.”
A source told Rick Pizzo of the Big Ten Network that Bielema knew two weeks ago he was leaving and was weighing offers from several SEC schools. Pizzo also said sources informed him Alvarez knew of Bielema’s plan to leave at the end of the season.
Players had a meeting at the Camp Randall facilities at 6 p.m. where Bielema was present. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was spotted leaving around 10 minutes later (he declined to comment) as players gradually filed out of the facility.
“I’m not (disappointed); there’s no reason to be,” senior tailback Montee Ball said as he walked to his car. “As men, we’re all proud of him. He has goals in this life that he wants to accomplish.”
When asked why Bielema said he was leaving, Ball simply replied, “He wants to go win a championship.”
Other players were caught off-guard as well.
“I’m a little surprised,” center Travis Frederick said. “But it’s a great opportunity for him and I think he’s going to do a great job there.”
Like Ball, Frederick also expressed that Bielema cited a better opportunity at Arkansas for himself.
“He expressed that it was the best opportunity for him. I think that everybody faces choices in life and you need to do what’s best for you in those choices. I think he’s done tremendous things for the program and he’s left us in a good spot.”
The shocking report comes just three days after the Badgers took down Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game 70-31 Saturday to qualify for their third-straight Rose Bowl. Despite rumors Monday that Tennessee had contacted Bielema about its head coaching vacancy, his name was not among those rumored to be in the running for the Arkansas job before the news broke Tuesday.
Bielema gathered a 68-24 record in seven years as the man in charge after taking over as Alvarez’s hand-picked successor in 2005. He is expected to see a significant pay bump from the $2.5 million base salary he is scheduled to make this year.
“I guess I was surprised, that was about it,” quarterback Joel Stave said. “This is new, I’ve never really experienced this, but we’re going to work through it.”
The list of top candidates for replacing Bielema is former UW offensive coordinator and first-year Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst, Dave Doeren — who was just hired as N.C. State’s head coach — and Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
“I have no idea what Coach Alvarez is going do,” Frederick said. “I think he’s done tremendous in the past in picking who he wants around and I think he’s going to continue to do that.
But Chryst announced Tuesday night after having a meeting with his team that he remains fully committed to the Pittsburgh program.
“I understand the speculation surrounding my name given today’s developments,” Chryst said in a statement. “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.”
After the Razorbacks flopped under interim head coach John L. Smith in 2012 with a 4-8 record, Arkansas announced Nov. 24 that he would not return.
Arkansas was never the same after the firing of former head coach Bobby Petrino this past April, a man who had led them to a 34-17 win over his four years with the program as well as a win in the 2012 Cotton Bowl, finishing the season ranked No. 5 in the AP and Coaches Poll. When it was discovered that the coach, a married father of four, was having an inappropriate relationship with athletic department employee Jessica Dorrell and lied to the University of Arkansas about his presence at the scene of a motorcycle accident, Arkansas dismissed Petrino.
Alvarez issued a statement in response to the news Tuesday night.
“I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas. 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,” said Alvarez, adding, “I have a responsibility to our student-athletes, our football family and our fans, one that I take very seriously. It is my responsibility to ensure that the football program continues at a high level, and I have already started the process of trying to find a new head coach.”
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