Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald has been sought by NFL teams for years, despite him making it clear he was not prepared to leave the school, but sources indicated that landscape has changed ahead of this hiring circle.
Fitzgerald, 46, was at least willing to listen to the Packers two years ago and, after spending time with his family in Florida this week following his Citrus Bowl romp over Auburn, will assess his options then. Turnover in the Northwestern athletics department, and some other outside factors, have created a climate where, unlike in years past, the right owner may be able to convince Fitzgerald to leave, sources said.
The Lions, Falcons and Texans all have him on their radar, sources said, while other teams could make their interest more formal this week as well. Fitzgerald is expected to be judicious about any interviews he agrees to, but unlike in years past it is less than certain that he will quickly dismiss them and move on with the business of preparing for the 2021 Big Ten season.
Fitzgerald has long been seen as an NFL coach-in-the-making, with the same program building qualities that have attracted pro teams to Matt Rhule and Matt Campbell in recent years. His leadership and organization skills are top notch and he has been able to compete in a top division without having the depth and high-end talent of some other programs. His loyalty to the school where he played has also been admirable.
But the aggressive interest in 2021, a landscape where there are few "it" NFL coordinators certain to land head coaching jobs, and the perceived strength of this 2021 quarterback draft class (many of those QBs poised to land with teams hiring new coaches) also work in favor of strongly considering taking a few interviews. Other members of Fitzgerald's staff are popping up on NFL radar as possible coordinators, sources said, including offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Fitzgerald has coached the Wildcats since 2006, compiling a record of 106-81.