CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — After the best season in 15 years, Illinois football coach Bret Bielema is cashing in and staying in Champaign for the foreseeable future.
Bielema signed a new six-year contract that runs through the 2028 season, the school announced Tuesday morning. Bielema’s annual salary grows to $6 million per year, bumping him up more than $1 million per year. Annual raises are included in his new deal as well, including a $500,000 annual retention incentive. The contract also provides for up to four one-year extensions if certain performance thresholds are met.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
“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,” Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “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!”
Since his hire in December of 2020, Bielema is 13-11 with the Illini, the best two-season start for an Illinois head coach since John Mackovic in the 1988 and 1989 seasons. That includes five Big Ten road wins, the most by an Illinois head coach in his first two seasons since Lou Tepper in 1992-93.
Bielema led Illinois to an 8-4 record this fall, the first time the program has won at least eight games since the 2007 team that played in the Rose Bowl. The Illini were led by a defense that ranked in the top 10 of 17 major statistical categories during the regular season, including No. 1 rankings in scoring defense, interceptions and passing efficiency defense. Cornerback Devon Witherspoon was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, a Bednarik Award semifinalist and a consensus All-American.
On offense, running back Chase Brown led the Power 5 in rushing from the start of the season to its end and was a Doak Walker Award finalist. He and 18 others earned All-Big Ten honors, the most in program history.
Illinois rose to as high as No. 14 in the AP Poll, the first time since 2011 that Illinois cracked the Top 25 and the first since 2007 that Illinois reached the Top 15. In addition, Illinois debuted at No. 16 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, the first time in program history Illinois was ranked by the CFP.
The success of the football team has also resulted in growth off the field and in the stands. 2022 saw average ticket attendance at its highest since 2016 – Lovie Smith’s first year as head coach. Student attendance was at a 10-year high and revenue from football tickets increased 37% year-over-year.
The success is also resulting in Illinois’ recruiting profile to rise. Illinois’ 2022 recruiting class is the highest ranked class since 2017 and of the 22 signees, half are from Illinois, the largest collection of in-state talent since 2003. Linebacker Gabe Jacas earned various Freshman All-American recognitions and defensive back Matthew Bailey ranks among national leaders in interceptions among first year players.
Illinois will end the 2022 season by playing in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Jan. 2 against Mississippi State. It will be the program’s best bowl game since the 2008 Rose Bowl and one of the top three Illinois bowl games of the last 30 years.
The University’s Board of Trustees will meet in January to vote on the extension, a formality for the contract’s approval.