FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Bret Bielema will be paid $3.2 million annually for six years at Arkansas, the school said Wednesday as it prepared to introduce its new football coach.
Arkansas released its signed letter of agreement with Bielema, which includes another $700,000 in annual incentives. Arkansas will also pay its new coach’s $1 million buyout to Wisconsin.
It was not immediately known whether Bielema would coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl against Stanford on Jan. 1.
“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 ahead of a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”
Bielema replaces interim coach John L. Smith, who was hired after Bobby Petrino was fired. Long announced after the season that Smith wouldn’t return.
Bielema’s agreement calls for paying Arkansas $3 million if he leaves during his first year, with the buyout lowering by $500,000 each year afterward.
Arkansas is required to pay him $12.8 million if it fires Bielema in the first three years of the deal. That drops to $9.6 million in the fourth year, $6.4 million in the fifth and $3.2 in the final year – providing the 42-year-old with what appears to be plenty of job security.
Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, Bielema was 68-24 in seven seasons with the Badgers and the move to Arkansas surprised many. He is leaving the Big Ten for 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.
Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach on both sides of the ball. Arkansas continually ranked among the Southeastern Conference’s best passing teams under Petrino. Bielema, meanwhile, 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.”
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, now Wisconsin’s athletic director. “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.”
The Illinois native takes over a program still reeling following the Petrino scandal, one eager for stability and leadership.
“I’m excited about this decision,” Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel tweeted.
The Razorbacks improved their win total in four straight seasons under Petrino, including a 21-5 mark in 2010-11, and finished last season ranked No. 5. They had talked openly in the spring about competing for the school’s first SEC championship and perhaps a national title.
Then came the April 1 motorcycle accident that led to Petrino’s downfall. The married father of four initially lied about being alone during the wreck, later admitting to riding with his mistress – a former Arkansas volleyball player he had hired to work in the athletic department.
Smith, who had been an assistant the last three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to guide a team that returned first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed the personable Smith back with open arms.
The season hit the skids with a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, starting a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings. The Razorbacks finished with the school’s lowest win total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas struggled to find its identity in the SEC after leaving the former Southwest Conference in 1992, but it appeared to have finally found just that under Petrino, who was hired after leaving the Atlanta Falcons during the season in 2007.
The Razorbacks turned into an offensive powerhouse under Petrino, leading the league in scoring and total offense last season. After winning 10 games and reaching the school’s first BCS bowl game in 2010, losing to Ohio State, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011, capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.
Still, Arkansas has yet to win the SEC, losing in the conference championship game three times.
Bielema’s agreement includes a bonus of $100,000 for winning the SEC championship game, $150,000 for appearing in a BCS bowl game and $100,000 appearing in either the Capital One or Cotton Bowls.
He’d receive $300,000 for appearing in the national championship game and another $350,000 were the Razorbacks to win their first national title since 1964.
It will be up to Bielema to turn things around in the loaded SEC West, with Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M.
Long said during the season that the new coach would be tasked with building on the recent success at the school, which is looking into expanding the 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium and is currently building an 80,000-square-foot football operations center.
“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,” Bielema said. “This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of.”