The Bret Bielema era at Illinois will officially begin in the fall after the former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach took over for the fired Lovie Smith this offseason. Bielema, since being fired at Arkansas in 2017, had been working in the NFL as an assistant for the New England Patriots and New York Giants the previous three years.

Bielema’s time at Arkansas may have ended in 2017, but the coach had been embroiled in a legal controversy involving the school since his departure. Both sides were party to a lawsuit stemming from Bielema’s employment with the Patriots.

But according to a report from Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith, Bielema and Arkansas have settled their dispute.

“After Arkansas fired Bielema, he spent two years working for the Patriots,” Smith reported. “His salary in New England was $125,000, and Arkansas accused Bielema and his agent of scheming to take an artificially low salary so that Arkansas would have to pay him more. Bielema’s Arkansas contract said the school still owed him $11.935 million when he was fired, but it also said that Arkansas could deduct his salary from his future coaching jobs.

“The Patriots wanted to keep emails involving Bielema private, and they won a temporary order toward that end, but the judge in the case said that the Patriots’ emails could come out at trial.”

According to Smith, the Patriots argued that emails “contain competitively sensitive and personal information — including compensation paid to another member of the team’s coaching staff,” and that the team “would suffer competitive and commercial harm if this information is made publicly available.”

Arkansas will pay Bielema another $3.5 million and the coach will free Arkansas from an additional $3.9 million he was owed under the terms of his contract with the Razorbacks, according to Smith.

Bielema was 29-34 (11-29 in the SEC) in his five seasons at Arkansas. He was hired by the Razorbacks after a successful seven-year run at Wisconsin where Bielema guided the Badgers to four double-digit win seasons and a 68-24 overall record.

Illinois announced Bielema as head coach in December of 2020.

“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 statement. “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.

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“We will build an outstanding staff for both player development and recruiting. The University of Illinois has incredible facilities and is known as one of the world’s outstanding academic institutions. We will hold the young men on our team responsible both on and off the field while coaching them to be champions in life. Jen and I, along with our girls, are excited to get to Champaign-Urbana and get started on the journey. Go Illini!”

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