Bret Bielema is back in college football.
The New York Giants assistant is leaving the organization to become the head coach at Illinois, the university announced Saturday.
"Bret Bielema is a proven winner. With three Big Ten championships to his credit, few coaches can match his familiarity with, and success within, the Big Ten Conference," Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said in a press release.
"In our conversations, it became clear to me that he is a life-long learner who is continually looking to grow and improve, and he has enjoyed unrivaled mentorship from some of the game's most distinguished coaches, including Hayden Fry, Kirk Ferentz, Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, and Bill Belichick – all of them current or future Hall of Famers."
Bielema, an Illinois native, spent the last three years in the NFL. He currently serves as the Giants' outside linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant.
Illinois recently fired head coach Lovie Smith, who was in his fifth season with the team.
"Importantly to me, Bret, a native of our great state, grew up an Illini fan and is committed to seeing the football program at our state's flagship grow and prosper," Whitman said.
"Bret's blue collar work ethic and genuine, authentic manner will allow him to form strong connections to his players and staff and positive relationships in our community and our state. These qualities, combined with his commitment to education and his track record of success, give me great confidence in his leadership of our football program."
Bielema has a long resume
Bielema is no stranger to coaching in college football. He previously served as the head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas. After being fired by the Razorbacks in 2017, he was hired as an assistant with the NFL's New England Patriots.
"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 the release. "We want to build a program that makes Illini Nation proud and regain the passion that I've seen when Illinois wins.
"We want the young men playing football in the state of Illinois from Freeport to Cairo and from Quincy to Danville dreaming of wearing the Orange and Blue and playing at Memorial Stadium. I look forward to re-connecting with the high school coaches around the state making it clear we intend to keep our players home."
Bielema played college football at Iowa from 1989-92. He then spent a stint with the now-defunct arena football team Milwaukee Mustangs.
"We will build an outstanding staff for both player development and recruiting," Bielema said. "The University of Illinois has incredible facilities and is known as one of the world's outstanding academic institutions.
"We will hold the young men on our team responsible both on and off the field while coaching them to be champions in life. Jen and I, along with our girls, are excited to get to Champaign-Urbana and get started on the journey. Go Illini!"Published 20 Dec 2020, 22:50 IST