Ex-Arkansas coach Bret Bielema suing Razorback Foundation over buyout agreement

Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is suing the university's athletics foundation for allegedly breaching his buyout agreement after his firing in November 2017.

In the lawsuit filed against the Razorback Foundation in federal court in Arkansas on Friday, Bielema's attorneys indicated he was seeking just over $7 million.

Bielema, now an assistant with the New York Giants, was fired after compiling a 29-34 record, 11-29 in the SEC, in five seasons with the Razorbacks.

The Razorback Foundation agreed to an $11.935 million buyout in January 2018 and was scheduled to pay Bielema $320,000 per month until Dec. 31 or until he found a new job that paid him comparably. The buyout included a clause that required Bielema to seek employment.

According to Bielema's lawsuit, the Razorback Foundation sent him a demand letter on Jan. 31, 2019, accusing him of being "well aware" of his "material breaches" and that he had "made no efforts, diligent or otherwise, to obtain replacement employment of the same or similar character." The Razorback Foundation demanded that Bielema return more than $4.2 million it had already paid him in monthly buyout payments.

"[T]o the extent you did obtain employment, you did so only to maximize your personal income to the detriment of the Foundation and, at the same time, contractually bound yourself to avoid your obligations to the Foundation," the demand letter said, according to the lawsuit.

Bielema, 50, worked as a volunteer coach for the New England Patriots in 2018 and was the team's defensive line coach in 2019. The Giants hired him as their outside linebackers coach and senior assistant in January.

The foundation's demand letter accused Bielema of manipulating his employment contracts with the Patriots to bring his salary just under the applicable exemption of $150,000.

According to the lawsuit, Bielema reached an agreement with the Patriots in early 2018 to assist its coaching staff in assessing NFL draft prospects and was paid $25,000 for about seven weeks of work. In July 2018, Bielema agreed to become a special assistant to Patriots coach Bill Belichick and was paid $100,000. He was promoted to an on-field position the next season and earned $250,000. In January, the Giants paid him $400,000 to lure him away from New England, according to the lawsuit.

Marshall Nye, an attorney for the Razorback Foundation, said in a statement that, "It appears that Bielema filed suit in order to avoid being sued" over the $4,555,833.29 paid to him.

Bielema, who guided Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls during his seven seasons from 2006-2012, was reportedly a candidate for head-coaching positions at Colorado and Michigan State after last season.

Bielema's attorney, Thomas Mars, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from ESPN.

The Razorbacks owe more than $10 million to former coach Chad Morris, who was fired in November with four years left on his contract. Morris had a 4-18 record in nearly two seasons at Arkansas, including a 0-14 mark against SEC foes.