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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Updated: December 15, 11:09 PM ET
Bret Bielema takes Arkansas job

ESPN.com news services

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Bret Bielema is taking his brand of power football to Arkansas, leaving Wisconsin after seven seasons.

Arkansas released a statement Tuesday night saying Bielema has agreed to a contract to take over the program reeling after the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino.

Bielema will earn $3.2 million annually for six years in his new job at Arkansas, which will also pay its new coach's $1 million buyout to Wisconsin. Arkansas on Wednesday released its signed letter of agreement with Bielema, which includes another $700,000 in annual incentives.

Bielema, Barry Alvarez's hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit win seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas in his first season at the Capital One Bowl.

ESPN reported Bielema wants to coach the team in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio, but it's unknown if Alvarez will want him to. A source close to Alvarez told ESPN that Alvarez would consider coaching the team himself in the bowl game.

Bielema is leaving the Big Ten for the Southeastern Conference and a Razorbacks program that opened the year with a top 10 ranking and hopes of challenging for a national championship, only to get mired in Petrino's infidelity scandal before stumbling to a 4-8 finish.

"His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said of Bielema in a statement. "He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them."

The move was the second stunning hire this year at Arkansas, which brought in John L. Smith as the interim coach after firing Petrino for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department. Long announced after the season that Smith would not return.

Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach than what the Razorbacks have become accustomed to. Arkansas continually ranked among the SEC's best passing teams under Petrino, while Bielema is known for his dominant offensive lines and slew of running backs.

"During my conversation with Jeff, he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program," Bielema said in a statement. "It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals."

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' long-standing single-season record of 39 touchdowns last year. He became the FBS career leader this year with 82 touchdowns after running for three Saturday night in the Big Ten title game against Nebraska -- a 70-31 romp that secured the Badgers' third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, where they will play Stanford on Jan. 1.

The 42-year-old Bielema was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for two years before being promoted to head coach in 2006. He played for Iowa and started his coaching career there as an assistant under Hayden Fry and later Kirk Ferentz.

"I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas," said Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director and former coach. "He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas."

When Wisconsin launches its search for Bielema's replacement, it won't include former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Doeren. A source close to Doeren told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Doeren, who was hired Saturday to be NC State's new coach, is not a candidate to return to Wisconsin's program.

Doeren was hired by the Wolfpack the day after he led Northern Illinois to its second consecutive Mid-American Conference championship. Doeren went 23-4 in two seasons at NIU after serving as a Badgers assistant from 2006-2010, the last three seasons as defensive coordinator.

Bielema, an Illinois native, takes over a program eager for stability and leadership.

"I'm excited about this decision," Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel tweeted.

Also pleased with the reported hire is Dallas Cowboys owner and Arkansas alum Jerry Jones.

"We're excited about him," Jones said. "It's a great opportunity for him. Our program has a lot of pride."

The Razorbacks improved their win total in four straight seasons under Petrino, including a 21-5 mark in 2010-11, and finished last season ranked No. 5. They had talked openly in the spring about competing for the school's first SEC championship and perhaps a national title.

Then came the April 1 motorcycle accident that led to Petrino's downfall. The married father of four initially lied about being alone during the wreck, later admitting to riding with his mistress -- a former Arkansas volleyball player he had hired to work in the athletic department.

Smith, who had been an assistant the past three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to guide a team that returned first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed the personable Smith back with open arms.

The season hit the skids with a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, starting a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings. The Razorbacks finished with the school's lowest win total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

"It's very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible team," LSU coach Les Miles said following the Tigers' win over the Razorbacks in the season finale. "Watching the talent there, (it's) very capable."

Arkansas struggled to find its identity in the SEC after leaving the former Southwest Conference in 1992, but it appeared to have finally found just that under Petrino, who was hired after leaving the Atlanta Falcons during the season in 2007.

The Razorbacks turned into an offensive powerhouse under Petrino, leading the league in scoring and total offense last season. After winning 10 games and reaching the school's first BCS bowl game in 2010, losing to Ohio State, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011, capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.

Still, Arkansas has yet to win the SEC, losing in the conference championship game three times.

While the country watched closely to see how Arkansas would react following Petrino's dismissal, Smith made headlines of his own throughout the season. The former Michigan State and Louisville coach filed for bankruptcy during the season, revealing $40.7 million in debt he blamed on bad land deals.

He was under far more fire from Arkansas fans for the mounting losses and it will be up to Bielema to turn things around in the loaded SEC West, with Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M.

Long said during the season that the new coach would be tasked with building on the recent success at the school, which is looking into expanding the 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium and is currently building an 80,000-square-foot football operations center.

"The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes," Bielema said. "This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of."

Information from ESPN's Joe Schad and Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Adam Rittenberg and The Associated Press was used in this report.