Bielema Instrumental in New Helmet Design For 2021 Opener vs. Nebraska

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

August 26, 2021

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When your program’s new head football coach owns a marketing degree from a Big Ten Conference school, it’s probably not a bad idea to let him play around with the helmet design.

This is exactly what Bret Bielema did as he described his involvement in Illinois’ new helmet design that they will debut Saturday when they open the 2021 season in Bielema’s debut vs. Nebraska (Noon, FOX).

The new Illinois helmet maintains the relatively traditional orange look but with a new blue stripe down the middle with white trim and a blue block ‘I’ with white trim as the side logo with a white face mask.

Since 2012, the Illinois football program has seen 20 different style helmets in four different colors with 11 different side logos.

Bielema, who graduated from Iowa in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in marketing, said Thursday in his final local media availability that one of the first meetings he had after being hired by Illinois in December was with the program’s 22-year veteran football equipment manager Trent Chesnut to discuss how the new head coach could put his stamp on the Illini helmet.

Due to contractual obligations with Nike, Bielema wasn’t allowed to change the design of the uniforms except to add the block ‘I’ on the pants so the new Illini coach was able to limit his focus on the team’s headgear.

“I'd been watching Illinois throughout the years and looked at all of the uniform combinations, asked a couple questions and had some deep thoughts with myself about it for a few days,” Bielema said.

The first thing Bielema knew about the helmet, at least for his opener as Illini coach, was the helmet had to be orange.

“My wife will tell you that ever since we've known each other, every house we've moved into together,” I've always wanted an orange room. I love the color orange and it's something that has jumped out to me,” Bielema said. “We get to have an opportunity here at the University of Illinois to showcase a color nobody else gets to do. There's nobody else with orange in the Big Ten. It's very rare in college football so I wanted to maximize that.”

Next on Bielema’s agenda was to bring back a stripe down the middle of the helmet that Illinois hasn’t had since 2016. The blue stripe with white trim down the middle of the helmet hasn’t been seen since 2014. It will look very similar to the stripe worn by players from 1989-2012 and matches the stripe worn by the 2001 Big Ten Championship squad, which is being honored this weekend as several members and former head coach Ron Turner return to Champaign for a 20-year reunion.

“I loved some helmets of the past that had the striping down the middle of the helmet just makes it pop a little bit,” Bielema said.

Finally, Bielema had one last question regarding the helmet design.

“The white face mask was something I asked about why they transitioned out of that because I remember when I played against Illinois and coaches against Illinois with the white face mask and how much it popped,” Bielema said.

Illinois hasn’t worn a white face mask on an orange helmet since 2012.

“We'll be in white gloves, white socks, white shoes and that'll be accentuated by the helmet as well,” Bielema said. “Listen, I just told our guys that I can take care of (what the) uniform (will be), right? I can do certain things. They have to take care of that uniform. I gave it to them (and) now they have to represent it. Now, they’re going to go on the field and hopefully make everyone understand what that uniform represents.”

 

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