Bret Bielema hired as new Arkansas football coach

Bret Bielema celebrates after a 70-31 Wisconsin win over Nebraska on Saturday in the 2012 Big Ten title game.

Photo by David Stluka, Wisconsin Athletics

After a nearly eight-month-long coaching search, Arkansas has hired Bret Bielema as its new head football coach.

Bielema, 42, comes to the Razorbacks after seven years as head coach at Wisconsin. He went 68-24 with the Badgers and led the team to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and three consecutive Big Ten championships, including a 70-31 win over Nebraska on Saturday.

Bielema played football at Iowa where he later became an assistant. He served as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for two seasons before taking over as head coach in 2006.

The news was first reported by several outlets Tuesday afternoon. The hire was made official in a statement released by the school Tuesday evening. A press conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Bielema’s contract is worth $3.2 million annually for six years. He was making $2.59 million at Wisconsin.

“Bret Bielema is an exceptional leader of young men and an outstanding football coach who has proven his program is centered on establishing an unshakable foundation that emphasizes the development of each student-athlete as an individual,” said Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long in the statement. “Coach Bielema has led his team to a historic run of championships while seeing a record number of student-athletes recognized for academic achievement. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a commitment to competing for a national championship with a program known for discipline, honesty and integrity. His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans. He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”

Bielema said he was humbled and honored to become the new head coach at Arkansas.

“During my conversation with Jeff (Long) he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program,” said Bielema. “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.”

Yahoo! Sports’s Pat Forde called the hire “a stunning coup” as Bielema’s name wasn’t on anyone’s list of those rumored to take over the job at Arkansas.

ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said Bielema’s move from Wisconsin to Arkansas was wise.

“Arkansas is a better job than Wisconsin,” said Kornheiser on Tuesday’s episode of PTI. “In Wisconsin, you don’t have the allegiance of the whole state. In Arkansas, you’re going to get all the money you need and all the support you need. In Arkansas, football is king.”

Bielema’s defensive-minded game plan will be a shift from what Arkansas fans grew to expect from Bobby Petrino’s explosive offensive system. It does, however, seem more in line with other SEC defensive powerhouse teams like Alabama and LSU.

Petrino, who was fired in April following a scandal in which he hired his mistress to work in the football department, was succeeded by John L. Smith who served as interim head coach for the 2012 season.