CHAMPAIGN – Coming off the program’s best season in 15 years, the man who helped orchestrate it just got a little more job security.
On Tuesday, Illinois head coach Bret Bielema signed a new six-year contract extension with the school that will keep him in Champaign through at least the end of the 2028 season.
The deal is pending approval for the university’s Board of Trustees, who will meet in March.
In his second season as head coach, the Illini won eight games, their most since the 2007 season, earning a spot in the ReliaQuest Bowl against Mississippi State on January 2 in Tampa. It’s just the second postseason appearance for the program in seven seasons.
“First, thank you to Josh Whitman, our administration, Chancellor Jones, and the Board of Trustees for their support and commitment to our football program,” said Bielema in a statement released by the school. “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.”
Hired to replace Lovie Smith in December 2020, Illinois went 5-7 in Bielema’s first season but showed signs of improvement when they knocked off two Top 25 teams in their final five games. In 2022, Illinois shook off an early loss to Indiana to win six-straight games as an offense led by running back Chase Brown (1,643 yards) and the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense had the Illini in contention for a Big Ten West title.
In November, the fates changed for Illinois as they dropped one-possession games to Michigan State and Purdue at home then lost on the road at No. 3 Michigan on a last-second field goal. Illinois beat Northwestern in the finale 41-9 to finish 8-4, settling for second in the Big Ten West behind the Boilermakers.
Still, the season was the best for the program in 15 years and came after the Illini failed to qualify for a bowl the previous two seasons.
“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,” said athletic director Joh Whitman. in a statement from the school. “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.”