Illinois signs Bret Bielema to new 6-year deal through 2028

ByAdam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Illinois coach Bret Bielema, who this season guided the team to its highest wins total since 2007, has agreed to a new contract through the 2028 season.

Bielema, who is 13-11 in his second season at Illinois, will receive an annual salary increase from $4.3 million this season to $6 million in the new agreement, which is pending board approval in January. The new deal includes annual raises and bonuses, including a $500,000 annual retention. Bielema also is eligible for up to four one-year extensions if he meets certain performance benchmarks, not disclosed in Tuesday's announcement.

Bielema initially agreed to a six-year, $26.7 million deal with Illinois in December 2020.

After Illinois went 5-7 in Bielema's first season, the team started 7-1 this fall and was close to winning the Big Ten West Division before dropping consecutive home games to Michigan State and Purdue. The team had 19 All-Big Ten selections, the most in program history.

The Illini finished 8-4 and will play Mississippi State on Jan. 2 in the ReliaQuest Bowl, just the team's fifth postseason appearance since reaching the 2008 Rose Bowl.

"He has worked tirelessly, with an eye for detail and tremendous competitive urgency, to set a new standard of excellence for Fighting Illini football," athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. "Perhaps most importantly, he has brought an immediate identity to our football program and represented the University of Illinois with class, humility, and confidence. I could not be more excited to continue partnering with Bret to elevate Illinois football into the championship-caliber program that we envision."

Bielema, 52, returned in 2020 to the Big Ten, where he won three league titles and recorded five AP Top 25 finishes at Wisconsin. He left for Arkansas, going 29-34 before being fired in 2017. Bielema spent 2019 and 2020 as an NFL assistant, helping the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl LIII title.

Bielema, who is from Illinois and played defensive line at Iowa, is 110-69 overall as a college coach. He was named a semifinalist Tuesday for the George Munger National Coach of the Year award.

"Thanks to our outstanding coaches, staff, and student-athletes, I am proud of the progress we have made in two years," Bielema said in a statement. "I could not be more excited about where our program is going."