The news was first reported by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, and quickly confirmed by Josh Whitman, the Illinois athletic director and Bielema himself.
“Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me, and I can’t be any more excited about the opportunity in front of me with the Fighting Illini,” Bielema said. “We want to build a program that makes Illini Nation proud and regain the passion that I’ve seen when Illinois wins. We want the young men playing football in the state of Illinois from Freeport to Cairo and from Quincy to Danville dreaming of wearing the Orange and Blue and playing at Memorial Stadium. I look forward to re-connecting with the high school coaches around the state making it clear we intend to keep our players home.
“We will build an outstanding staff for both player development and recruiting. The University of Illinois has incredible facilities and is known as one of the world’s outstanding academic institutions. We will hold the young men on our team responsible both on and off the field while coaching them to be champions in life. Jen and I, along with our girls, are excited to get to Champaign-Urbana and get started on the journey. Go Illini!”
The Giants originally hired Bielema to be their outside linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant this past offseason. Bielema had served as a defensive consultant for Bill Belichick in 2018 before coaching the Patriots’ defensive line in 2019.
This isn’t the first time Bielema interviewed for a college position this year, having interviewed to be the head coach for Colorado University shortly after being hired by the Giants back in February. It has long been expected that the former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach would be leaving the Giants for another head coaching opportunity at some point.
The timing of his departure is likely jarring for Giants fans, but the necessities of the collegiate recruiting cycle demand the head coach be available to begin recruiting as soon as the season ends.
The Giants have now issued a press release acknowledging Bielema’s departure.
“We always want to be supportive of our coaches and players in terms of advancing their careers,” said head coach Joe Judge. “We appreciate everything Bret did for this organization and our coaching staff. He did he a great job with our outside linebackers and made a significant impact on our overall defensive effort. Bret is a great teacher, and he brings great perspective on how he sees the game. We wish him all the best at the University of Illinois. The Illini program is in great hands.”
Inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer will take over Bielema’s duties, with help from defensive assistant Jody Wright.
Bielema joined the Giants after two seasons with the New England Patriots, where he first served as the consultant to head coach Bill Belichick and last year as the team’s defensive line coach.
Prior to joining the Patriots, Bielema spent 24 seasons as a collegiate coach and compiled a 12-year record of 97-58 (.626) as a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas.