Bret Bielema was officially announced as the next head coach of Illinois football on Saturday morning. AD Josh Whitman introduced him during a press conference on Monday. Here’s what Bielema had to say:
On becoming head coach:
- As a native of Illinois who was born at Illini hospital, things have come full-circle.
- The blueprint and the facilities that are already at Illinois added to his excitement.
- Taught his daughters the “I-L-L”, “I-N-I” saying.
- He held a team meeting that was broken up into meetings with seniors.
- It was surreal to walk through the halls of the facilities at Illinois. He has coached and played at Memorial Stadium, but this was his first time in the home team locker room.
On playing #5 Illinois while at Iowa:
- It was an unbelievable environment.
- Being at Memorial Stadium while playing for the Hawkeyes was not what he dreamed as someone who grew up an Illinois fan.
On potential of the program:
- The plan here is different than other places he has been.
- The root of good football is simple. It is important to build a roster of good, dependable players.
- It is important to build a developmental roster with players that fit at the University of Illinois.
On the process of building a roster:
- With COVID-19, the rules are ever-changing, but he sees it as an opportunity.
- We are not going to skip steps. It is important to do things right the first time and build up the way it needs to be done.
- He has not reached out to the players who recently signed. The priority was to talk with the players who are on campus first, but he will be reaching out this week.
On personal growth:
- Many think it is defined by success, but really it is defined by adversity.
- There is not one specific thing that he has noticed, but there is the natural evolution of someone who is now at his third head coaching job at age 50, compared to first becoming at coach at 32. You learn a lot along the way.
On hiring staff:
- The roster is first priority right now.
- He has started to talk individually with the staff and will be finishing up those meetings.
- There is no set plan on people, but he has an idea. It is about the process.
- Hoping for things to be finalized by late January, then they will hold an eight week program to make sure everyone is on the same page mentally and physically before spring ball.
- He does not want players leaving state. It is a priority to keep them here.
- Already reached out to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association.
- Being an Illinois native, it is an advantage since he knows all of the towns in the state. In the past, he had to learn state geography by being on the road.
AD Josh Whitman on Bielema:
- Each person he talked to about Bielema only had positive things to say about him and his character.
- He had a 45-minute conversation with Bill Belichick, who spoke about Bielema’s high football IQ.
- Appreciation and respect for the Big Ten, specifically the West.
- Whitman was looking for a partner, someone who he can work with toward a shared vision.