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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Foundation saves on Bielema settlement

by Wally Hall | April 25, 2021 at 8:21 a.m.

They ended up about in the middle.

Bret Bielema and the Razorback Foundation agreed on a settlement of $3,529,167 of the slightly more than $8 million that had them suing each other.

Bielema, now the head coach at Illinois, was suing for what he believed was still owed to him from a $11,935,000 buyout from when he was fired in 2017 after a 4-8 season at Arkansas.

The foundation believed Bielema had not used every avenue to pursue another head coaching job, instead working for the New England Patriots for $125,000 and later $250,000 before going to the New York Giants for $400,000.

Two weeks before the original agreement would have ended, Bielema accepted the job at Illinois, where he will be paid north of $4 million annually.

More than two years ago, Scott Varady -- executive director of the Razorback Foundation -- stopped the monthly buyout payments. Ten months ago, Bielema sued and the Razorback Foundation countersued.

The settlement basically saves the foundation almost $4 million from the original buyout, which was ridiculous to begin with.

The problem began when then-athletic director Jeff Long got all excited after Arkansas beat a Texas Longhorns team that showed no semblance of wanting to be at the 2014 Texas Bowl, a second-tiered bowl. The Hogs won that game 31-7.

Beating the Longhorns at anything, especially football, always has been meaningful to Razorback fans, and most realized this same Texas team had been in the hunt for a national championship the season before. But going to Houston on Dec. 29 was not high on the list of any of the burnt orange the next season.

The Hogs finished 7-6. That result attracted zero suitors for Bielema's talents, which were better fitted at Wisconsin than at Arkansas in the loaded SEC.

But Long was pretty much unsupervised, and he was so enthusiastic about Bielema that he gave him a new contract complete with a raise and an original $18 million buyout.

At the time, that was Nick Saban or Urban Meyer kind of buyout money. But Bielema's 10-15 record at Arkansas after his second season did not stir visions of either of those coaches.

Bielema would have been dumb not to take a raise and contract extension. No one turns down raises and lifetime financial security.

Long ramrodded the extension through. A couple of years later when it was becoming obvious the program was headed in the wrong direction, Donald Bobbitt, president of the UA System, said he would personally be involved in all contracts, even in athletics, in the future.

It was obvious during the 2017 season, when the Hogs went 4-8 and 1-7 in SEC play, that a change was coming.

But Long dug his heels in so hard that he had to be fired first.

As everyone knows, he landed at Kansas where he was also fired.

Football and basketball both slipped during Long's tenure, and apparently his way of fixing them was a $160 million expansion of the football stadium that the school is still paying bond debt on.

Long has not been accountable for the damage he caused at Arkansas.

The good news is that the lawsuit is settled.

Everyone said the right things, wishing the other party well in the future.

None of this would have happened if Varady didn't have the guts to say no, we aren't making any more payments. Yet, he was willing to compromise when settlement talks began.

The bottom line is he followed his conscience, and in the end it saved the Razorback Foundation almost $4 million.


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