Bret Bielema to Arkansas in silly season's biggest upset

It bubbled up in late January, early February. Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema didn’t like the perceived aggressive recruiting style Ohio State's Urban Meyer brought with him from Florida.

"I can tell you this,” Bielema told the Sporting News. “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC -- in any way, shape or form."

Apparently there is no “we” in Bielema. The energized, engaging, 42-year-old newly married coach who embodied Wisconsin football is about to drive the Hogs in the toughest conference in the country. Bielema will be named Arkansas’ new coach Tuesday night, has confirmed.

The news was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

More on coaching changes

The move would suggest some dissatisfaction on Bielema’s part. That and/or money issues. Arkansas reportedly offered Les Miles a five-year, $27-million deal before the LSU coach turned it down and got an extension from his school.

If Bielema got anywhere close to that, it would be easy to overlook the SEC’s cutthroat recruiting. He currently makes $2.7 million per season with a career record of 68-24. He was AD Barry Alvarez’ hand-picked successor to take over after the 2005 season. Bielema then went 12-1 in his first season. Bielema was in his seventh season at Wisconsin, having led the Badgers to their third straight Rose Bowls. The team was coming off a 70-31 destruction of Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game.

Bielema figures to calm the waters after Arkansas football was left in the lurch April 1 when Bobby Petrino ran his motorcycle off the road near Fayetteville. A cover-up of an affair with a football office employee followed. Petrino was fired soon after. That same month, former assistant John L. Smith was named as a one-season interim.

From there the season cascaded into a series of disasters. It was revealed that Smith had declared bankruptcy. An upset at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe ruined the season. That was followed by a 52-0 shutout at the hands of Alabama in what was supposed to be Arkansas’ signature game of the season.

Bielema’s thought might have been that things weren’t going to get much better at Wisconsin. The third straight Rose Bowl came about only because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for bowls this season in the Leaders Division. The Badgers had a subpar 7-5 season but upset Nebraska on Saturday.

Bielema has shown an ability to prepare his team despite adversity. He was able to snag quarterback Russell Wilson in 2011 as a one-year transfer from North Carolina State. That was the difference in an 11-3 season that ended with a Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. That year, Bielema produced college football’s first 3,000-yard passer and 1,900-yard rusher (Montee Ball) in five years.

This season Bielema was able to get Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien at quarterback. However, a series of injuries and a slow start led to his worst season since 2008 when the Badgers went 7-6.

Bielema is 2-4 in bowl games. He played at Iowa and was an assistant at the school as well coaching under Bill Snyder at Kansas State before moving to Wisconsin.

Bielema’s philosophy figures to fit in well in the SEC. If he follows his Wisconsin ways, Arkansas can look forward to a crushing ground game to go along with a solid defense. Sounds a lot like a certain defending national champion.

Makes sense. The last sitting Big Ten coach to leave for the SEC was Nick Saban in 2000. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories