Illinois head coach Bret Bielema coached Wisconsin for seven years, where he led the Badgers to a 68-24 record and consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Yet he was fired in 2012 after seven straight winning seasons. Bielema finally got his revenge this past Saturday with a win over his former team, who ironically fired their coach shortly after.

The Wisconsin connection garnered plenty of hype, but Bielema went out of his way to set the record straight:

“Everybody wants to make a big deal of my history of Wisconsin, I probably have more history at Iowa.” Bielema said after Saturday’s win.

After graduating from Prophetstown High School, Bielema attended Iowa as a student in 1989. He ended up walking on as a defensive lineman and playing under Hayden Fry for four seasons. By 1992 he earned team-captain honors and a scholarship.

Although his Hawkeye aspirations came to fruition, his NFL dreams did not. So Bielema continued his football career as a coach on Fry’s staff as a graduate assistant and was promoted to linebackers coach in 1996. When Fry retired in 1998, Kirk Ferentz stepped in and took the reigns. He retained two coaches: Chuck Long and Bielema.

Bielema can recall a conversation between him, Ferentz, and current defensive coordinator Phil Parker when the new regime took over.

“We sat in there and pieced that defense together and built it unlike anything they had done there before.” Bielema said.

“I really owe a lot of my defensive education to those initial years with Kirk at Iowa.”

Bielema left in 2001 for a bigger role with Kansas State before landing Wisconsin’s head coaching job in 2007. He’s used some of that knowledge to defeat his former boss, winning 3 of their 5 matchups as opposing head coaches. Ferentz isn’t surprised to see Bielema have success in the Big Ten.

“He’s done very well in his career since he’s left here,” Ferentz said. “He was a good coach 20-some years ago, and obviously he’s done a great job. They’re really playing well right now, playing with confidence and are very aggressive. They’re a talented football team and a very confident football team. We’re going on the road to play in a really tough environment.”

Bielema has changed the culture in Champaign in just his second season. His Fighting Illini are 4-1, and he’s built a team ready to contend in the Big Ten West. Their running back, Chase Brown, leads the entire country in rushing yards. And their defense? Illinois leads the Big Ten in points allowed per game (8.4), interceptions (8) and sacks (16).

Kirk Ferentz is right, his Hawkeyes have their work cut out for them.

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