A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information hasn’t been released publicly, says the deal is for six years and $3.2 million annually.
Bielema, Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit win seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas in his first season at the Capital One Bowl.
“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 in a statement. “He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”
Bielema is leaving the Big Ten for the SEC and 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.
The move was the second stunning hire this year at Arkansas, which brought in John L. Smith as the interim coach after firing Petrino for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department. Long announced after the season that Smith wouldn’t return.
Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach than what the Razorbacks have become accustomed to. Arkansas continually ranked among the Southeastern Conference’s best passing teams under Petrino while Bielema 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.”
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders’ long-standing single-season record of 39 touchdowns last year, and this year became the FBS career leader in touchdowns. He currently has 82 touchdowns after running for three Saturday night in the Big Ten title game against Nebraska _ a 70-31 romp that secured the Badgers third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, where they will play Stanford on Jan. 1.
The 42-year-old 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, Wisconsin’s athletic director and former coach. “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 April 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.