Northwestern football legend Pat Fitzgerald, the winningest coach in program history and a member of the college football Hall of Fame, has been let go by university President Michael Schill.
Schill had originally suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks, after an outside investigation of hazing in the Wildcats’ locker room.
Schill subsequently said the two-weeks without pay may have been too lenient, and spent the last 72 hours reviewing the case, including talking with the student whistle-blower, before pulling the plug on the coach.
In a letter addressed “Dear Northwestern community” on Monday afternoon, Schill said “the decision to originally suspend Coach Fitzgerald was mine and mine alone, as was the decision to part ways with him.”
The independent investigator looked into hazing allegations by an anonymous Wildcats player after the 2022 season, and concluded the allegations were credible.
That investigator also said there was no significant evidence that any of the coaches were aware of the hazing, and Fitzgerald also said he was not aware.
However, Schill concluded that there were ample opportunities for Fitzgerald to have found out what was taking place.
“The head coach, “Schill said, “is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team. The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way,” Schill continued, “the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”
Schill noted the positive influence Fitzgerald has had over the years, the university president saying he has received “hundreds and hundreds of emails describing how … [Fitzgerald] has transformed the lives of current and former athletes.”
Fitzgerald was named head coach in 2006. His contract was extended a couple of years ago ’til 2030. Fitzgerald was also an NU linebacker in the 1990s, and won awards as the top defensive player in college football.
However, Schill concluded, that “as much as Coach Fitzgerald has meant to our institution and our student-athletes, we have an obligation — in fact, a responsibility, to live by our values….”
While the hazing and Fitzgerald’s dismissal are the major stories here, there are other elements.
First, what will happen to the NU football program, coming off an 1-11 season?
Schill said in the coming days, there will be an announcement regarding who’ll take over as head coach. Schill also said, “I encourage all of you to rally around the young men in our football program as they take the field this fall.”
Second, and while it’s unrelated to who coaches the team and what happened in the locker room, negative publicity like this can’t help as Northwestern moves forward with its attempt to build a new football stadium.
Update 7/11/23: Late Monday, in a statement to ESPN, Fitzgerald said he’s hired attorney Dan Webb “to take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”