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Bielema fired as head coach

By Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
This article was published November 24, 2017 at 6:58 p.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — Bret Bielema will not get to fulfill his dream of leading the Arkansas Razorbacks to their first SEC championship.

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville interim Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples announced the firing of Bielema on Friday, minutes after a 48-45 loss to Missouri at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

In his post-game news conference, Bielema said he was "informed coming off the field" that he "would no longer be the coach at Arkansas from this point forward."

"I've never been let go of in my entire life, so this is a first for me," he said. "I've had quite a few coaches that have moved on and they always kind of say, whether it's right, wrong or indifferent, that you want to leave the place better than when you got here. And I know that's happened. There's no doubt."

In a statement, Cromer Peoples said the team under Bielema has "not been able to sustain the success on the field that is expected and required at the University of Arkansas."

"There is no question that Coach Bielema has been a valued and respected member of our department and has made a positive impact on the lives of our student-athletes, including supporting them in their pursuit of graduation," she said. "We are grateful for his contributions to our program and most importantly his investment in the lives of our student-athletes. We wish him the very best both personally and professionally."

Bret Bielema through the years

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Cromer Peoples, who is expected to speak about the move at a 7:30 p.m. news conference, added that she expects the opening "will attract the interest of many of the top coaches in the nation.”

Bielema noted that "probably six of our top nine or 10" players suffered injuries that knocked them off the field for extended periods, calling that not an "excuse" but the "reality of the depth that we've got and where we're at."

"I know we wanted more wins," he said. "I know we all want this. We were on a steady climb and ran into a speed bump that we just never were able to really get back out of. We were on a steady win cycle with three, then seven and then eight, and then it looked like we could possibly get to eight, nine, 10 and didn't play well down the stretch a year ago."

Bielema, 47, exits with a record of 29-34 record in five seasons at Arkansas, and a mark of 11-29 in the SEC.

Bielema's best record was 8-5 in 2015 with a third-place finish in the rugged SEC West at 5-3. His 2016 team was in position to improve on that record, but the Hogs blew huge leads against Missouri and Virginia Tech in their final two games. Including the 28-24 loss at Missouri, the Razorbacks are 4-10, including 1-10 against Power 5 opponents.

Bielema's firing had been expected for the last several weeks and became all but certain after UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz fired Athletic Director Jeff Long on Nov. 15. Long had been a staunch supporter of Bielema, particularly due to the football team's performance in academics and off-the-field behavior.

In an early season talk with reporters after an appearance at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club, Long said, "I support Bret Bielema and he is our coach and he's doing a good job. And you know what, with a few more wins he's doing an incredible job."

The increased win tally simply did not materialize.

Bielema, whose salary before bonuses is $4.2 million this year, is owed a substantial buyout for the remaining three years on his contract, which was extended to Dec. 31, 2020 in early 2015. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported the buyout as $5.9 million between today and Dec. 1, based on language in his original contract and an amendment added in early 2015 after the Razorbacks routed Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl.

However, sources have indicated Bielema could also have an agreement with the Razorback Foundation that could increase the amount owed to him. The severance is expected to be negotiated and also subject to mitigation by Bielema's future employment.

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