By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
December 20, 2022
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Bret Bielema has signed a new long-term contract designed to have him stay at Illinois until at least the end of the 2028 season.
Following the Illinois head coach taking the program to its first New Year’s Day bowl game since 2007, Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman announced Tuesday in the form of a news release a six-year agreement pending University of Illinois Board of Trustees approval at its meeting in January.
Under the terms of the extension, Bielema's annual salary immediately grows to $6 million, with annual raises, including a $500,000 annual retention incentive, and the deal includes performance bonuses that are not detailed in the university media release. The contract also provides for up to four separate one-year extensions to possibly increase the length of the contract to as far out as the end of the 2032 season (when Bielema would be 62 years old) if certain performance thresholds, which were not included in the media release, are met. The next Board of Trustees will consider the extension for approval at its regularly scheduled meeting on January 26, 2023. The buyout clauses and the complete salary structure for Bielema were not released to the public or media and will likely not be released until after the public records request following the Board of Trustees meeting next month.
Bielema’s initial deal with Illinois to have him replace Lovie Smith in Dec. 2020 was a six-year agreement with the head receiving an average annual salary of $4.2 million.
"In his first two years as head coach of the Fighting Illini, Bret Bielema has led a resurgence of Illinois Football that had our team competing for a place in the Big Ten Championship Game and playing in a New Year's Day bowl game,” Whitman said via the media release. "He has assembled an exceptional staff, developed the existing players on our roster, and recruited talented student-athletes to join our program. He has worked tirelessly, with an eye for detail and tremendous competitive urgency, to set a new standard of excellence for Fighting Illini Football. 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. I want to thank Bret for his leadership, trust, and partnership, as well as Jen, their girls, and their family for their engagement in our community and their contributions to Illinois Athletics. The future is bright!”
Bielema, a George Munger National Coach of the Year semifinalist, has led the 2022 Illini to an 8-4 overall record and 5-4 record in the Big Ten, the program's best season since 2007. Illinois had its first season of 8+ wins in 15 years and finished above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time during that time span.
For the first time in program history, Illinois appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings in 2022, debuting at No. 16 in the rankings' opening week. In the Associated Press poll, Illinois was ranked for five straight weeks while riding a six-game winning streak, rising as high as No. 14. It was only the third time in the last 30 years, and the first time since 2007, that Illinois has cracked the AP's top 15.
Bielema is 13-11 in his Illinois career, the best two-year start for an Illinois head coach since John Mackovic in the 1988-89 seasons. Bielema has led Illinois to five Big Ten road wins, the most by an Illini head coach in his first two seasons since Lou Tepper from 1992-93, as the Illini have thrived in big-game atmospheres since Bielema arrived in Champaign.
“First, thank you to Josh Whitman, our administration, Chancellor Jones, and the Board of Trustees for their support and commitment to our football program," Bielema said via the statement in the media release. "Thanks to our outstanding coaches, staff, and student-athletes, I am proud of the progress we have made in two years and I could not be more excited about where our program is going.”
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