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Illinois' athletic director, Josh Whitman comforts coach Bret Bielema after a loss to Purdue. Saturday, November 12, 2022 at Memorial Stadium. 

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Bret Bielema will coach Saturday's game against Michigan, two days after the death of his mother.

A team spokesperson said the second-year Illinois football coach accompanied the team on Friday afternoon's flight to Michigan, where the Illini and No. 3 Wolverines are set to kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Marilyn Bielema died Thursday.

The Illini departed Willard Airport in Savoy on Friday. They remain in contention for the Big Ten West title despite consecutive home losses.

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ORIGINAL STORY

The mother of second-year Illini football coach Bret Bielema has died.

No cause of death was given for Marilyn Bielema, but the Illinois athletic department said in four-sentence press release on Thursday morning that Bielema's scheduled availability with reporters for 11 a.m. on Thursday was canceled.

"Coach Bielema is going through a difficult personal matter," the Illinois statement read. "Early this morning he received a call that his mother had passed. Please be respectful of his family’s privacy at this time."

The Illini (7-3, 4-3) play at No. 3 Michigan (10-0, 7-0) at 11 a.m. on Saturday. It's unclear at the moment if Bielema will coach Illinois against the Wolverines.

Bielema grew up in Prophetstown in northwest Illinois, with Marilyn and Arnie Bielema still residing there. The couple was married more than 60 years and had five children: Bret, Barry, Bart, Brandi and Betsy.

The Bielema family had an 80-acre hog farm in Prophetstown they bought in 1974 that Bret would work on as a child growing up. Marilyn also worked at daycare center for 25 years in nearby Morrison.

Even before Bret coached a game at Illinois, Marilyn was confident her son could turn the Illini around. He's done just that in his second season, with Illinois posting its first winning season since 2011 and winning at least seven regular season games for the first time since 2007.

“I hope you all aren’t disappointed in what he does,” Marilyn told The News-Gazette in late December 2020, shortly after Illinois hired Bret. “I’m sure he’s going to do the best he can.”

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