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‘Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me’: Bret Bielema to take over Illini football

Evan Hilbert

Illinois football on Saturday announced that Bret Bielema would take over for Lovie Smith as head coach.

Bielema, who is originally from Illinois, has bounced around as an assistant in the NFL, most recently coaching linebackers for the New York Giants.

“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 a 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.”

According to ESPN, Bielema will get a six-year contract with a starting salary of $4.2 million. He will replace Smith, who was let go after five seasons.

Bielema rose to prominence as coach of Wisconsin, where he was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2006 and led the Badgers to three Big Ten championships. He abruptly left Madison for Arkansas in 2013. The Razorbacks were 29-34 during his five-year tenure.

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