CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three conference championships before a disappointing run at Arkansas, is returning to the Big Ten and his home state to coach Illinois.

The Illini hired Bielema to replace the fired Lovie Smith on Saturday, hoping he can turn around a program with nine consecutive losing seasons.

A native of western Illinois, Bielema is 97-58 in 12 years at Wisconsin and Arkanas.

He took over for Barry Alvarez and went 68-24 with the Badgers from 2006 to 2012 before leaving to coach the Razorbacks. He finished with a 29-34 mark at Arkansas and was fired in November 2017.

He has spent the last three season as an assistant coach in the NFL, first with the Patriots and then the New York Giants.

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