Bielema Lawsuit Settlement Goes Half Hog as Patriots Avoid Court

Ten months after Illinois head coach Bret Bielema sued the Razorback Foundation for roughly $7.4 million, the two sides have reached a settlement that will lead to the litigation’s dismissal. The Foundation has agreed to pay Bielema $3.53 million, while he has dropped a demand of $3.85 million in additional payment—in other words, they have come close to walking away in the middle. Each side will also be responsible for their own attorneys’ fees. Terms were jointly announced by Bielema and the Foundation late Friday.

The settlement means that the Foundation will end up paying Bielema $8.09 million on the $11.94 million buyout signed four years ago. The deal also means there will be no trial, which had been scheduled for Jan. 10, 2022 in Fayetteville.

On behalf of the Foundation, executive director Scott Varady wished Bielema and his family the best. Bielema, for his part, wished the same “for everyone in Razorbacks athletics.”

The litigation centered on whether Bielema—whom Arkansas fired as head coach in 2017—complied with a contractual obligation in his buyout to use “best efforts” to land a new job (any job) and to be paid a reasonable salary in that job. The Foundation, which countersued Bielema, insisted that Bielema, 51, accepted what it portrayed as an unusually low-paying job with the New England Patriots, specifically to assist head coach Bill Belichick and later join the staff as an assistant.

Bielema, who was represented by attorney Tom Mars, argued that he made best efforts to land another job and a good salary in that job. Court documents revealed last month indicated that Belichick thought he was overpaying, not underpaying, Bielema. Those documents also showed that the Patriots had a history of paying coaches without NFL experience relatively low salaries.

The Patriots aren’t a party to the Bielema-Foundation litigation but are likely “winners” in the settlement. In court filings, the team has expressed concerns about having to divulge trade secrets in order to comply with Foundation subpoenas related to assistant coaches’ salaries, recruiting and interviewing. The settlement means those subpoenas and other document requests will end.

The cancelling of the trial is also important to the Patriots. Belichick would have certainly been called to testify given that the dispute revolved around whether or not the Patriots underpaid Bielema. Belichick on U.S. District Court Judge P.K. Holmes III’s witness stand, where the 69-year-old coaching legend would be obligated to answer questions while under oath, would have been a far different setting than during his press conferences, where Belichick is sometimes criticized for sharing less than fully responsive answers.

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