Arkansas released its signed letter of agreement with Bielema, which includes another $700,000 in annual incentives. Arkansas will also pay its new coach’s $1 million buyout to Wisconsin.
It was not immediately known whether Bielema would coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl against Stanford on Jan. 1.
“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 ahead of a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”
Bielema’s agreement calls for paying Arkansas $3 million if he leaves during his first year, with the buyout lowering by $500,000 each year afterward.
Arkansas is required to pay him $12.8 million if it fires Bielema in the first three years of the deal. That drops to $9.6 million in the fourth year, $6.4 million in the fifth and $3.2 in the final year _ providing the 42-year-old with what appears to be plenty of job security.
Barry Alvarez’s hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, Bielema was 68-24 in seven seasons with the Badgers and the move to Arkansas surprised many. He is leaving the Big Ten for 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.
Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach on both sides of the ball. Arkansas continually ranked among the Southeastern Conference’s best passing teams under Petrino. Bielema, meanwhile, 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.”
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, now Wisconsin’s athletic director. “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 Petrino 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.