Tag:Pat Fitzgerald
Posted on: May 10, 2011 12:21 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 1:20 pm
 

Northwestern signs Fitzgerald to 10-year contract

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As expected in a report from the AP yesterday, Northwestern announced today that head coach Pat Fitzgerald has just signed a new, 10-year contract that keeps him with the program through the 2020 season. The exact terms were not disclosed, and as a private university Northwestern is not obligated to disclose them, but Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Fitzgerald is signed for about $1.8 million per year.

"It is paramount for Northwestern football to have great leadership," said Director of Athletics and Recreation Jim Phillips in a statement released today. "There is no better individual to lead Chicago's Big Ten Team than Pat. He is a tremendous teacher and truly values developing young men athletically, academically and socially. Our football program is having unprecedented success -- on the football field, in the classroom and in the community -- and that is due to Pat's outstanding leadership."

By inking Fitzgerald to this long-term deal -- one that looks like the first step of a "lifetime" contract -- Phillips and Northwestern reaffirmed their commitment to long-term stability in their revenue-generating sports. This is a two-prong strategy, both of which of are mandatory for this approach to work: patience and aggressively incentivizing success. The patience keeps coaches around even if their first few seasons aren't marked by meteoric rises in the polls, and the incentivizing (usually in the form of contract extensions) keeps them around when bigger-named schools start sniffing around at the first hint of success.

For example, in basketball, Bill Carmody is in his 11th year at the helm of the Wildcats' basketball program, and he's still never gotten them to the NCAA tournament. And yet, they've never gone at all, under Carmody or anybody else, so using tournament bids as a condition for employment would be wrong at a school like Northwestern. Phillips recognizes this fact, which explains why Carmody was given a contract extension this January, but most other schools without a history of success usually follow a pattern of firings or resignations every four years or so, and the cycle of futility usually continues unabated. You can't expect to build a successful program in four years. Sure, it can happen, but it usually doesn't -- there's far too much time spent on rebuilding. And now, as Carmody prepares for his twelfth season with Northwestern, that program is as strong as it's ever been. Think that'd be the case if there had been two or three firings between Carmody's hiring and now?

Similarly, Fitzgerald came to Northwestern as a 31-year-old with no previous head coaching experience, having been an assistant under Randy Walker until Walker's untimely death before the 2006 season. Since taking over for Walker, Fitzgerald is 34-29 in five seasons with no bowl victories. Ordinarily, a BCS coach who averages a 7-6 season and can't win a bowl game in three tries isn't going to get a 10-year deal made. But this isn't an ordinary BCS school, this is Northwestern. That may sound pejorative, but the fact remains that Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game in over 60 years, so just like with basketball, it would be wrong for Phillips to judge Fitzgerald on postseason successes at this point, and he knows that. Fitzgerald still needs time to keep improving the program and its track record of success, and giving Fitzgerald a 10-year contract sends the message to him, his players, and his recruits that Northwestern is granting him the freedom to do exactly that. That sounds intuitive and obvious, but how often does this type of commitment actually happen at the schools without strong athletic traditions? Think about that the next time you see one of those schools give up on a coach after 3-5 years.

Posted on: April 14, 2011 12:48 pm
 

Northwestern and Notre Dame renew rivalry

Posted by Tom Fornelli

That video is from 1995, and it shows what happened the last time Northwestern and Notre Dame met on a football field. During that game, Northwestern shocked the world by upsetting ninth-ranked Notre Dame in the season opener by a score of 17-15. It was the first game of what turned out to be a dream season for Northwestern, as the Wildcats finished the year 10-1 and went to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949.

At that time, Pat Fitzgerald was Northwestern's middle linebacker. Now that he's the team's head coach, Fitzgerald will get his chance to not only beat Notre Dame as a player, but as a coach as well. It was announced on Thursday morning that the Irish and Wildcats would be rekindling the series. Northwestern will return to South Bend in 2014, while Notre Dame will make the trip to Evanston in 2018.

“We’re excited about having Notre Dame make its first visit to Evanston since 1976,” said Northwestern AD Jim Phillips in a press release. “This is really an exciting time for Chicago’s Big Ten team as we continue to upgrade our nonconference schedule. With schools such as Boston College, California, Syracuse and Vanderbilt visiting Ryan Field in future years, combined with Nebraska to our division in the Big Ten, there’s no better time to be a Wildcat.”

Phillips also worked in Notre Dame's athletic department from 2000 to 2004. While the schools haven't played since that 1995 shocker, they have played a total of 47 games against one another.

Posted on: January 13, 2011 12:53 pm
 

Pat Fitzgerald to get 'lifetime' contract?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Pat Fitzgerald has accomplished quite a bit as the head coach at Northwestern.  No, the Wildcats haven't won any Big Ten titles or made any BCS bowls under Fitzgerald, but given the school's football history, the fact that he consistently puts together winning seasons is nothing to take for granted.  Plenty of other programs have noticed what the 36-year old head coach has done, and his name pops up quite a bit when it comes to coaching searches. 

In fact, the word is that Fitzgerald was on Michigan's short-list to replace Rich Rodriguez, but he turned down an interview request.  He's turned down a lot of interviews in recent years, showing a loyalty to the school he attended that Northwestern has noticed.  Now it seems the school is looking to return the favor, as according to the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern is working on a lifetime contract for Fitzgerald.
Toward the end of his Northwestern tenure, Ara Parseghian felt underappreciated — even though his final two teams spent time ranked among the nation's top 5.
Top NU officials are so determined not to let the same thing happen with coach Pat Fitzgerald, they are working on a lucrative and comprehensive contract extension that they hope will make him a Northwestern lifer.
It is expected to be formalized in the next few weeks.
Fitzgerald already has a deal through 2015, but athletic director Jim Phillips met with him in November and told him the school wanted to enhance it after the season — plus address any issues Fitzgerald had regarding NU's commitment to the program.
Fitzgerald, who played linebacker for Northwestern during its last trip to the Rose Bowl in 1996, took over the program after the unexpected death of Randy Walker in 2006.  Since then he's gone 34-29 in five seasons, leading the Wildcats to three bowl games.  
Posted on: January 1, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 7:20 pm
 

Bowl Grades: TicketCity Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

Texas Tech withstands a late Northwestern charge to win the inaugural TicketCity Bowl 45-38


TEXAS TECH

Offense: Senior Taylor Potts spent most of his career at Texas Tech in the Air Raid system that basically hands the keys of the offense to the quarterback. When the Red Raiders hired Tommy Tuberville as Mike Leach's replacement, that system left with Leach. But when Northwestern shut down the rushing game early, Potts was given the green light to fire at will. Using accurate throws on intermediate passing routes, the Red Raiders marched up and down the field all day on the Wildcats. Potts finished his career as a Red Raider with one of his finer performances of the season, completing 43 of 56 passes for 369 yards, and five total touchdowns. GRADE: A-

Defense: A matter of days ago Texas Tech found out that not only would defensive coordinator James Willis be leaving after just one season, but he would not even coach the Red Raiders in their bowl game. Considering the disruption this must have caused in the unit's preparation, the Red Raiders put together a pretty impressive performance in the first half. Unfortunately, when Northwestern got their dual-QB offense going in the second half the defense was caught on their heels. GRADE: C-

Coaching: When the rushing game failed, head coach Tommy Tuberville was forced to do the one thing he truly distastes: airing the ball out. But Tubs was able to come to terms with abandoning the running game because of how accurate Potts appeared, particularly early. Tuberville even let a trick play go down on the double-pass that set up Potts' rushing/receiving touchdown. The Red Raiders came into the game with basically no defensive coordinator, and yet still held the Wildcats to just one score in the first half. GRADE: B

NORTHWESTERN

Offense: In the first half, Northwestern looked helplessly lost without quarterback Dan Persa and running back Mike Trumpy. Their offense was stagnant, and their defensive counterparts could not do anything to stop the Red Raiders either. Needless to say, things looked bleak. But after the break, the Wildcats were able to utilize their two-quarterback package to move the ball down the field on Texas Tech. Running a scheme that utilized both Evan Watkins and Kain Colter, occasionally on the field at the same time, the Wildcats were able to keep the defense guessing and take advantage of some open field to score quickly and get back into the game. With Watkins primarily throwing and Colter primarily running, the two freshmen combined to do their best Dan Persa impression. Unfortunately, it was not enough to overcome the 24-6 halftime deficit. GRADE: C

Defense: Northwestern's defense was their one consistent flaw throughout all four quarters of the TicketCity Bowl. Time and time again, they were unable to create the big third down stop to keep the Red Raiders from moving the ball, and eventually, burning up the clock. The best chance the Wildcats had was when they cut the lead to 38-31 early in the fourth quarter. When Texas Tech got the ball back, Potts put together a 10 play, 69 yard touchdown drive that temporarily deflated the Northwestern sideline. Were it not for Jordan Mabin's pick-six two minutes later, the final result could have been much worse for the Wildcats. GRADE: F

Coaching: Preparing for Texas Tech team was a challenge for Patrick Fitzgerald and the Northwestern coaching staff, particularly on offense without Persa or Trumpy. Luckily, they had plenty of time to put together the scheme for Colter and Watkins. The Wildcat-esque package they ran was not anything groundbreaking, but it was good enough to create some quick scores to give Northwestern a chance at the end of the game. GRADE: B-

FINAL GRADE: Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since 1949, and for a moment in the second half it looked like this COULD be their triumphant moment. But no Persa and no Trumpy really hurt the Wildcats in the first half, falling into a deficit that was just too much to overcome. For Taylor Potts, it was good to see him air it out one last time. Not often this season has he gotten to complete 40+ passes now that Mike Leach's Air Raid offense is gone. At halftime, this snoozer was an F. But thanks to a furious comeback by the Wildcats, the game ended up being quite entertaining. GRADE: C+
Posted on: November 21, 2010 4:36 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Nov. 20)

Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. Wisconsin fans shouldn't necessarily buy tickets to Pasadena, but they should at least be pricing them. We're sure that Badger fans weren't terribly excited to see their nemeses in East Lansing complete the comeback today, leaving the Big Ten title picture still in some measure of doubt, but Ohio State 's own comeback against Iowa later that day means that barring a sensational boost in the BCS rankings for the Buckeyes, Wisconsin is one win away from the Rose Bowl. Considering Northwestern -- the Badgers' last opponent -- clearly misses injured QB Dan Persa and struggles to stop the run, the likelihood of an upset at Camp Randall seems slim. Famous last words, yes, but still.

2. Don't mention fourth quarters to Iowa fans for a while. Or do if you want to anger them. In the Hawkeyes' game against Ohio State, the Buckeyes weathered Iowa's defense for three quarters before making a heroic drive in the last few minutes of the game to take the lead and win. For the Iowa fans, it was a broken record that desperately needs to stop; in each of Iowa's four losses, the vaunted Iowa defense has given up a go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes on the clock, at which point the Iowa offense has failed to answer under pressure. In fact, Iowa would have five losses of that exact nature if Indiana wideout Damario Belcher hadn't dropped an easy fourth-down touchdown two weeks ago. It's to the point where "small sample size" just doesn't work as an excuse anymore: the Iowa defense clearly doesn't have the juice to play for 60 minutes, and that painful fact has snuffed out the high hopes of the Hawkeye faithful in Iowa City.

3. The Spartans might not be going to the Rose Bowl, but their season's pretty special anyway. Barring an Ohio State loss to Michigan next week, Michigan State will not be going to Pasadena; the fact that MSU and OSU didn't play each other this season means that their tiebreaker would be BCS ranking, and OSU was already comfortably ahead of the Spartans even before OSU took down a ranked Iowa team while MSU struggled with very-not-ranked Purdue. Michigan State's season-ender at Penn State isn't a gimme, but even if the Spartans lose, this is still just the third time in program history that MSU has hit 10 wins on a season (1965, 1999). The Spartans have never won 11 games in a season, and they have two opportunities to do that now.

The accomplishment isn't that much of a stunner, as the Spartans looked on paper to be at worst a darkhorse contender for the league title. It's just, well, they barely ever do this, so it was hard not to wonder how MSU would screw it all up this year. But credit Mark Dantonio and his staff for keeping the team on track, even through Dantonio's heart attack and other off-field problems, and en route to its best Big Ten record its best conference record in at least 11 (and maybe 45) years.

4. Okay, so football at Wrigley can be pretty cool -- even if one of the end zones is sort of a death trap. The Big Ten got it right when it forbade Illinois and Northwestern to run offensive series toward that now-infamous east end zone at Wrigley, and when Northwestern defensive back Brian Peters took an interception to the house, he had to be tackled by teammates before hitting that wall. No, he wasn't three yards away from certain doom, and the tackle by his pals was also nice and celebratory, but still: he was only about three or four yards away from impact before being taken down as he slowed from his sprint. Running offensive plays (like fade routes) toward that wall would have been just begging for injuries -- and lawsuits.

But past that, the fans in attendance got to see a special occasion, even if Illinois absolutely worked the Wildcats. Wrigley Field is one of the most hallowed sports arenas, and to see its famed scoreboard used to show Big Ten football scores and its marquee painted purple must have been a thrill for Northwestern and Big Ten fans in Chicago. Ron Zook said he'd "absolutely" have his team play there again, and Pat Fitzgerald was equally effusive in his praise of the event. Should the two teams play their rivalry game there every year? Well, that seems like an abuse of the novelty of it all, but have you ever actually seen Memorial Stadium or Ryan Field? Not exactly cathedrals of the sport, those. It might -- just might -- be worth keeping Wrigley on the table going forward.


Posted on: November 20, 2010 7:29 pm
 

Football at Wrigley: Let's play two

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Going in to Saturday's game between Northwestern and Illinois at Wrigley Field, all the talk surrounded the way the field was situated inside the stadium, and the fact that both offenses would move towards the west end zone due to safety concerns about the right field wall located directly behind the east end zone.

Because of all this, people were saying that the first football game to be played at Wrigley Field would probably be the last.  After seeing Illinois beat Northwestern 48-27, I'm not sure that should be the case.  Were there some odd circumstances surrounding this game?   Of course, when you're playing inside a 96-year old baseball stadium, things are going to get a bit weird.

The truth is, though, that once the game kicked off, there wasn't anything all that different from a game that had been played in Champaign or Evanston. Fact is, there may not have been as many people in the seats had this game been played at either school's home stadium.  Chicago is a big city, with a large contingent of college football fans. Fans that, for the most part, don't have much of a college football selection to choose from in town.  The most popular team in the city, Notre Dame, plays it's games over two hours away from the city.

So having this game at Wrigley Field, in a city that many Northwestern and Illinois students and alumni call home, gave those fans a chance to see a game and sleep in their own bed that night.

Besides, did having both teams move towards the west -- The Manifest Destiny Bowl -- really hurt the game?  Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't seem to think so.

"I don't know how it looked on television," said Fitzgerald.  "It didn't affect the flow of our game."

There's no doubt that Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure would want to play in Wrigley one again, either.  The Illinois running back brought back memories of Gale Sayers running around Wrigley Field, rushing for 330 yards and two touchdowns.

LeShoure would love to come back next season.  "I think it'd be fun," he said. "Especially after this game."

I can't help but agree with him.
Posted on: November 17, 2010 2:39 pm
 

Fitzgerald: Wildcats planning for Wrigley

Posted by Jerry Hinnen


By now, you've probably seen the photos out of Wrigley Field as it prepares to host this weekend's Northwestern -Illinois game, and in all likelihood you've followed up with some kind of "guess they won't be running many deep routes on that end of the field" joke. Of course, all joking aside, it appears that the Arena-league-style lack of sideline behind the east end zone -- on a field much, much larger than Arena League regulations -- could be a major injury hazard if the teams aren't very aware of their surroundings when driving towards that right-field wall.

The good news is that Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is aware of the situation , at least, and really isn't planning on running deep routes in that end of the field:

"It will definitely be a factor," Fitzgerald said on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "I don't think we're going to be trying to run a lot of go routes. It's a recipe for disaster.

"We talked already about [having a] 'Going-east red-zone game plan', [and a] 'Going-west red-zone game plan.' You have to adjust to it. It's kind of like having the elements, whether it's rainy or snowy or windy, sometimes you have to adjust your game plan."

The game promises to be a huge moneymaker and attention-getter for a Wildcat program that has always struggled to make a dent in the Chicago sports consciousness, so it's no surprise that Fitzgerald is ready to make some excuses for the layout and celebrate what does promise to be a unique experience for his team and the Wildcat fans on Saturday. But there's a big, big difference between a little bit of wind and a brick wall only a few feet from the playing field; put simply, the former's not going to concuss anyone. It's also not like this was some kind of unforeseen problem :

A spot near the southwest corner of the field is about 6 feet from a padded brick wall.
 
Cubs president Crane Kenney called that a "pinch point" and said the team could not bulldoze it down to create more space.

"The brick wall is a landmarked feature," he said, "so that's not coming down."
Said NU athletic director Jim Phillips said. "We had risk managers out here. We had civil engineers, safety engineers. We had so many people look at it because nobody wants to put the student-athletes in harm's way.
 
"We vetted it through all the experts at both universities and felt like everybody was comfortable with the dimensions."

This sounds fine today. But if the constricted dimensions of the Wrigley layout lead to any injuries on Saturday, it will be well worth asking if "everybody was comfortable" because they actually were comfortable with them or if they overrode the discomfort in the name of squeezing the game into the venue. We should all hope that when Fitzgerald swears not to risk running players full-speed into the back of that end zone, he means it.


Posted on: November 2, 2010 12:35 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2010 6:08 pm
 

Dan Persa should play against Penn State

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has done just about everything for the Wildcats this season.  Not only does Persa rank second in the country in completion percentage (74.4%) and ninth in pass efficiency (162.7) but he also leads Northwestern in rushing with 360 yards.  Without Persa, the Wildcats aren't 6-2 and on their way back to another bowl game under Pat Fitzgerald.

There was some concern that Northwestern would have to take on Penn State this weekend without its lynchpin on offense, as Persa suffered a concussion during a win against Indiana last week.  According to Fitzgerald, though, there's no reason to worry as he "fully expects him to play" this weekend.  Still, before it can be made official, Persa will have to pass Northwestern's "post-concussion protocol" which is a series of tests he'll need to pass before being cleared.

The team plans on having him participate in non-contact drills on Tuesday and hopes to have him cleared to play on Thursday.

Persa may have some extra motivation to play this weekend as well, as he grew up a fan of Penn State only a few hours away from campus, and his mom graduated from the school.  When he was in high school the Nittany Lions didn't show much attention to him, so he may want to give them a hint on what they missed out on.

 
 
 
 
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