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The person who handpicked Bielema, under much outside scrutiny in fact, was also blindsided by the move.
"I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas," Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. "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."
Bielema went 68-24 (.739 winning percentage) in his seven seasons, including winning a conference championship the last three seasons. He went 12-1 in his first season in 2006 and has finished every year with a winning record. From 2009-11, Wisconsin tallied double-digit victories each year, marking the first time in program history the school achieved that feat.
Wisconsin beat No.14 Nebraska, 70-31, Saturday at Lucas Oil Field to earn a Rose Bowl berth for the third straight year.
Alvarez said the search for a new head coach has already begun.
"I have a responsibility to our student-athletes, our football family and our fans, one that I take very seriously," he said. "It is my responsibility to ensure that the football program continues at a high level.
"Along with finding a new coach, my other main objective is to make sure that our student-athletes, specifically our seniors playing in their final game as Badgers, have a tremendous experience in the Rose Bowl. We will do everything within our power to make that happen."