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Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

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Bret Bielema leaves Wisconsin for Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema is taking his brand of power football to Arkansas, leaving Wisconsin after seven seasons.

Arkansas released a statement Tuesday night saying Bielema has agreed to a deal to take over the program reeling following the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino.

A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information hasn't been released publicly, says the deal is for six years and $3.2 million annually.

Bielema, Barry Alvarez's hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit win seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas in his first season at the Capital One Bowl.

``His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans,'' Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. ``He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.''

Bielema is leaving the Big Ten for the SEC and a Razorbacks program that opened the year with hopes of challenging for a national championship only to get mired in the Petrino scandal before stumbling to a 4-8 finish.

The move was the second stunning hire this year at Arkansas, which brought in John L. Smith as the interim coach after firing Petrino for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department. Long announced after the season that Smith wouldn't return.

Bielema seems likely to bring a far different approach than what the Razorbacks have become accustomed to. Arkansas continually ranked among the Southeastern Conference's best passing teams under Petrino while Bielema is known for his dominant offensive lines and slew of running backs.

``During my conversation with Jeff (Long), he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program,'' Bielema said in a statement. ``It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals.''

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' long-standing single-season record of 39 touchdowns last year, and this year became the FBS career leader in touchdowns. He currently has 82 touchdowns after running for three Saturday night in the Big Ten title game against Nebraska - a 70-31 romp that secured the Badgers third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, where they will play Stanford on Jan. 1.

The 42-year-old Bielema was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for two years before being promoted to head coach in 2006. He played for Iowa and started his coaching career there as an assistant under Hayden Fry and later Kirk Ferentz.

``I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas,'' said Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director and former coach. ``He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas.''

The Illinois native takes over a program still reeling following the April scandal, one eager for stability and leadership.

``I'm excited about this decision,'' Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel tweeted.

The Razorbacks improved their win total in four straight seasons under Petrino, including a 21-5 mark in 2010-11, and finished last season ranked No. 5. They had talked openly in the spring about competing for the school's first SEC championship and perhaps a national title.

Then came the April 1 motorcycle accident that led to Petrino's downfall. The married father of four initially lied about being alone during the wreck, later admitting to riding with his mistress - a former Arkansas volleyball player he had hired to work in the athletic department.

Smith, who had been an assistant the last three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to guide a team that returned first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed the personable Smith back with open arms.

The season hit the skids with a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, starting a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings. The Razorbacks finished with the school's lowest win total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

``It's very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible team,'' LSU coach Les Miles said following the Tigers' win over the Razorbacks in the season finale. ``Watching the talent there, (it's) very capable.''

Arkansas struggled to find its identity in the SEC after leaving the former Southwest Conference in 1992, but it appeared to have finally found just that under Petrino, who was hired after leaving the Atlanta Falcons during the season in 2007.

The Razorbacks turned into an offensive powerhouse under Petrino, leading the league in scoring and total offense last season. After winning 10 games and reaching the school's first BCS bowl game in 2010, losing to Ohio State, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011, capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.

Still, Arkansas has yet to win the SEC, losing in the conference championship game three times.

While the country watched closely to see how Arkansas would react following Petrino's dismissal, Smith made headlines of his own throughout the season. The former Michigan State and Louisville coach filed for bankruptcy during the season, revealing $40.7 million in debt he blamed on bad land deals.

He was under far more fire from Arkansas fans for the mounting losses and it will be up to Bielema to turn things around in the loaded SEC West, with Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M.

Long said during the season that the new coach would be tasked with building on the recent success at the school, which is looking into expanding the 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium and is currently building an 80,000-square-foot football operations center.

``The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes,'' Bielema said. ``This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

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JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler