The University of Arkansas captivated the college football world by naming Bret Bielema the 32nd head coach in Razorback history in December of 2012. Bielema, who enters his third season at Arkansas, represented the qualities Arkansas was looking for: a leader of young men who holds student-athletes responsible both on and off the field and a coach who has a proven record of winning championships.
Throughout his head coaching career, Bielema has won three conference championships and coached 11 first-team All-Americans, numerous award winners and NFL superstars. Among the NFL players coached by Bielema are three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson, No. 1 overall draft pick and eight-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, All-Pro linebacker DeAndre Levy, Pro Bowl offensive lineman Travis Frederick, running back Montee Ball, and many others.
Bielema has the Razorbacks trending in the right direction behind a balanced offense and stifling defense. Arkansas closed the 2014 season winning three of its final four games against traditional powers LSU, Ole Miss and Texas, the first time in school history the Hogs have defeated those three teams in the same season. The Razorbacks finished 7-6 with a 31-7 victory over Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, marking Arkansas’ first winning season since 2011.
Bielema has always prided himself on a balanced offensive attack and that is exactly what the Razorbacks did in 2014. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins were the only FBS teammates to rush for more than 1,000 yards each and both players finished in the top five of the SEC in rushing totals. They are the only 1,000-yard rushing duo in college football to return in 2015. Quarterback Brandon Allen threw for 20 touchdowns, the sixth-most in a single season in school history, and had just five interceptions, the fewest by a Razorback quarterback since 1992.
Arkansas was the SEC’s most improved defense in 2014, allowing just 19.2 points per game. With an 11.9 points per game improvement from the previous season, the Razorbacks had the seventh-most improved defense in the nation. Arkansas became the first unranked team in college football history to post back-to-back shutouts over ranked opponents after blanking No. 20 LSU and No. 8 Ole Miss. Senior linebacker Martrell Spaight became the first Razorback to ever lead the SEC with 128 total tackles and was a consensus first-team All-SEC selection.
In his first season at Arkansas in 2013, the Razorbacks had five student-athletes named Freshmen All-Americans; running back Alex Collins, offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, tight end Hunter Henry and defensive tackle Darius Philon. Collins was named the SEC Freshman of the Year after he became the second Razorback freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Collins and Darren McFadden are the only two to do so in school history and the only two Razorbacks to be named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
His impact off the field has also been felt as the team has posted its two highest GPAs ever for a fall semester in 2013 and 2014. The football program had 32 student-athletes named to the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2014, the most for a fall semester in program history and the second most in the conference.
In Bielema’s eight seasons as head coach at Wisconsin, he had 17 players earn All-America honors, including 11 first-team All-Americans. He also coached two Outland Trophy winners, one Doak Walker Award recipient, one winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and one Lott IMPACT Trophy winner as well as finalists for numerous other individual awards, including the Heisman Trophy. In his final six years at Wisconsin, 21 Badgers were taken in the NFL Draft, including three in the first round.
Bielema, who served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator for two seasons before becoming head coach, was on staff as UW compiled a 55-6 record at Camp Randall Stadium in his nine years. The Badgers won their first 16 home games under Bielema, the second-longest home winning streak in school history.
In 2012, Bielema guided Wisconsin to its third straight Big Ten championship and the Badgers became the first team to represent the Big Ten in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan qualified following the 1976-78 seasons. In his final game at Wisconsin, Bielema led the Badgers to a 70-31 win over No. 14 Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin became the second team to score 70 points in a conference championship game, matching the number scored by Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game. Wisconsin also had two 200-yard rushers in the same game for the first time in school history.
Also during the 2012 season, running back Montee Ball broke the NCAA career records for total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Ball finished his career with 82 total touchdowns, breaking the previous record of 78, and 76 rushing touchdowns, besting the old record of 73. As a team, the Badgers finished in the top 25 in the country in rushing offense, total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and pass defense.
In 2011, the Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, defeating Michigan State 42-39 to advance to the Rose Bowl for the second straight season. Wisconsin, winners of the Leaders Division, finished the season with an 11-3 record and recorded 11 regular-season victories for just the third time in school history, all under Bielema’s watch.
Wisconsin’s high-powered offense ranked sixth in the country in scoring in 2011 behind quarterback Wilson and Ball. They became the first teammates in FBS history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and run for at least 30 scores in the same season. Ball, a first-team All-American, was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and tied Barry Sanders’ FBS record for touchdowns scored in a season with 39 and broke Sanders’ NCAA single-season scoring record with 236 points. Offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler also earned first-team All-America recognition. The Badgers had a school-record nine players receive first-team All-Big Ten honors.
In 2010, the Badgers won a share of the 12th Big Ten championship in school history and first since 1999. UW tied a school record with seven conference victories and earned their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1999. Wisconsin finished the season with an 11-2 record and ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press Poll. The Badgers were explosive on offense, setting a school record and ranking fifth in the country in scoring offense averaging 41.5 points per game. Their 45.2 points per game in conference play was the second-highest average in Big Ten history. Wisconsin nearly became the first team in FBS history to have three running backs gain 1,000 yards in the same season as James White finished with 1,052 yards, John Clay had 1,012 and Ball ran for 996.
Wisconsin was the most disciplined team in the country in 2010, leading the nation in both fewest turnovers with nine and fewest penalties per game with an average of 3.15. UW also ranked in the top 10 nationally in pass efficiency, third-down conversions, fourth-down conversions, red zone offense, time of possession and turnover margin. The Badgers were one of just six teams in the country to rank among the top 25 in both total offense and total defense.
Wisconsin players took home several national awards in 2010, including the Outland Trophy (Gabe Carimi), the Lott IMPACT Trophy (J.J. Watt) and the Unitas Golden Arm Award (Scott Tolzien). Carimi, Clay, Lance Kendricks, John Moffitt and Watt were all named All-Americans, giving Wisconsin its most All-America honorees since 1999. Bielema also garnered national acclaim for the Badgers’ tremendous season. He was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson, Bear Bryant and Home Depot Coach of the Year awards as well as a semifinalist for the Joseph V. Paterno Coach of the Year Award.
Eighteen players received All-Big Ten recognition, including five first-teamers. Carimi, Kendricks, Moffitt, Watt and Antonio Fenelus were all named first-team All-Big Ten, while Carimi was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and White was chosen as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Wisconsin’s success under Bielema translated to the classroom as well with 131 academic all-conference selections in seven seasons. UW had a school-record 25 members of the football team honored as Academic All-Big Ten in 2012, breaking the previous record of 22 set in 2009 and matched in 2010. Before 2009, the school record was 19, set in Bielema’s second season.
In 2009, Wisconsin won 10 games for just the sixth time in school history, capping the season with a win in the Champs Sports Bowl over No. 14 Miami. The Badgers started the season 5-0 before dropping a pair of games to teams ranked in the top 15. Wisconsin then won five of its last six games to finish the season 10-3. After not being ranked to start the season, UW finished the year ranked 16th in both polls.
In addition to team success, a number of Badger individuals earned honors in 2009. Running back John Clay was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year while linebacker Chris Borland took home conference freshman of the year honors. A total of five Badgers were named first-team All-Big Ten. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, rushing defense, sacks, time of possession and red zone offense. In the national rankings, UW ranked among the top 10 in rushing defense, third-down conversions, sacks, time of possession and red zone offense.
Bielema guided the Badgers to a 12-1 overall record and 7-1 mark in the Big Ten during his rookie year in 2006. Wisconsin capped that record-setting season with a 17-14 win over Arkansas in the 2007 Capital One Bowl. No previous Wisconsin team had won more than 11 games in a season. In addition, Bielema became just the third rookie head coach in NCAA FBS history to pilot his team to 12 victories. His efforts were rewarded when he was named the 2006 Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year. Bielema also was named one of five finalists for the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year Award and was a finalist for the 2006 Schutt Sports Division IA Coach of the Year Award.
Wisconsin surprised most observers outside the program by setting school records for overall wins (12) and regular-season victories (11), as well as tying the UW mark for conference victories (seven). The Badgers did it with a defensive unit that ended the 2006 regular season ranked among the top three nationally in pass defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. And they did it with an offense led by a pair of seniors (QB John Stocco and All-America tackle Joe Thomas), a young but talented offensive line, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year (P.J. Hill) at tailback and an emerging corps of receivers, including John Mackey Award semifinalist Travis Beckum.
Bielema was Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator in 2004 and 2005, a period in which the program produced a 19-6 record under former head coach Barry Alvarez. The 2004 Badgers were ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense and ninth in total defense. The 2005 club, which earned Wisconsin’s first shutout since 1999, finished its 10-win season with a 24-10 victory over No. 7 Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, limiting the high-powered Tigers to just 236 yards of total offense.
During Bielema’s two years guiding the Badger defense, two players earned first-team All-America honors and two others were first-team All-Big Ten selections. While coaching the Badgers’ linebackers, Bielema developed Mark Zalewski and Dontez Sanders, both of whom earned honorable mention all-conference acclaim.
Bielema was co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State under Bill Snyder in 2002 and 2003. The Wildcats were 22-6 during Bielema’s time in Manhattan and finished in the top 10 nationally both seasons in scoring and total defense. The Wildcats won its first Big 12 title in 2003. Among Bielema’s standout players at Kansas State were first-team All-American Josh Buhl, 2003 NFL second-round draft pick Terry Pierce and second-team All-Big 12 selection Bryan Hickman.
Prior to his years at Kansas State, Bielema spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Iowa, where he worked for head coaches Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. The 1997 Hawkeyes posted three shutouts and ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring defense.
Bielema lettered from 1989-92 at Iowa after joining the program as a walk-on. He earned a scholarship after his first year and was a member of Iowa’s 1990 Big Ten championship team. A starter as a junior in 1991, he was a team co-captain as a senior. Bielema signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks and later completed his playing career with the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League.
A 1992 graduate of Iowa with a degree in marketing, Bielema married his wife, Jen, on March 10, 2012.