Bielema to coach Illini at Michigan after mother's passing

Bielema to coach Illini at Michigan after mother’s passing

Illinois football coach Bret Bielema will coach the Illini at No. 3 Michigan, just two days after his mother, Marilyn, passed away.

Bielema traveled with the Illini (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) and will be on the sideline for the 11 am kickoff against the Wolverines (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at Michigan Stadium, an Illinois football spokesman told Illini Inquirer.

Illinois announced on Thursday that Marilyn Bielema, 83, died on Thursday morning. No cause of death was given. Marilyn and her husband, Arnie, live in Prophetstown (Ill.), where Bielema was raised.

“Coach Bielema is going through a difficult personal matter. Early this morning he received a call that his mother had passed,” Illinois announced on Thursday. “Please be respectful of his family’s privacy at this time.”

Bielema returned to the Quad Cities area, near Prohphetstown, in May for a speaking engagement. His parents, Marilyn and Arnie, were both in attendance.

“Hopefully it will make people proud,” Bret Bielema told Illini Inquirer. “It’s the same thing when I’m in Illinois and I say we want to represent the state of Illinois by what we do here in Champaign. I want to make the people in the Quad City area proud of what I do. It’s kind of that whole similar flow of things.”

Bielema grew up in Illinois and was a defensive lineman at Iowa. He got his coaching career started as a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes and earned his first full-time appointment in 1996 as the linebackers coach.

“I’m proud of him for what he’s done, but I’m proud he remembers where he’s from,” Marilyn said at May’s speaking event. “That’s important.”

Bielema was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State and Wisconsin before, in 2006, he nabbed his first head coaching job with the Badgers. In 2013, he took the Arkansas head coaching job and in 2021, after a few years in the NFL, returned to Illinois as the head coach of the football team.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god!’ It was ideal as far as he gets to see his family more often and everybody,” Marilyn said when asked about Bielema landing the Illinois job. “We’re proud of him. He keeps caring for people, that’s important.”

Bielema’s past from a small town has also helped him on the recruiting trail.

“I think it’s so important because family is very important,” Marilyn said. “He had a group of friends and they were all very, very close and still are to this day and keep up on what’s happening. When you have a smaller, more caring community …There’s a plus to big towns, but I’ll take small towns.”

Illinois is currently enjoying one of its most successful seasons in recent memory. The Illini are in the thick of the Big Ten West race and have already beaten the likes of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska.

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With a 7-3 record, Illinois has already matched its win total from each of the last two years and has its most regular season wins since 2007 under former head coach Ron Zook. The Illini have a chance to make a major statement this weekend with a key game at third-ranked Michigan.

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