Pat Fitzgerald, at a news conference in March 2023. Credit:

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.

Michael Schill.

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.”

Pat Fitzgerald (

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.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m sure there will be many more players that come out and share their stories in the near future. Many players were probably afraid to speak out at the time for losing their scholarships. Even if he didn’t know, which I find hard to believe, it shows a lack of control over the program that you are in charge of. Good move by Northwestern. Might be a longggggg time before you see a winning NU team after the damage done to the program. Hard to recruit to such a tarnished program that has historically been the doormat of the Big ten before Fitzgerald came.

  2. 17 years head coach with unblemished record. Sure hope allegations are air tight and not a lib-overreact

    My personal opinion, none of these allegations seem air tight AT ALL..

    1. Nice work bringing politics into it, Frank.

      I can’t speak to the specifics but IMHO it would be pretty unusual to have this much smoke and no fire.

  3. Well, as the story concludes, NU’s Ryan Field plan is pretty much unrelated to this. BUT — the way it was initially handled by the administration over the weekend does reflect, shall we say, a rather pompous or uncaring mindset that the City must recognize when evaluating NU’s proposed initiatives. And I’m an NU grad (from Medill– quite proud of the student journalists who essentially “broke” the story)!

  4. Why does a serious institution of higher learning require an athletic program that risks chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) every time players take the field?

  5. What an institution. It’s the same university that recently had a scandal regarding donors regularly sexually harassing the cheer squad women. Another whistleblower ended that situation, not a responsible NU administration. By all means, let’s trust this leadership to navigate what’s best for all Evanston residents and build a multi million dollar stadium for “poetry readings” and the like. They, and their local promoters, couldn’t possibly lead us astray.

      1. Pretty sure football money just stays football money. Gotta pay the absurdly high salary of the head coach and build all the new facilities, right?

        1. The secondary college sports (and women’s college sports) are funded primarily by men’s football and basketball . We could get rid of all sports aside from intramural, which is the way it is in Europe’s Universities (which are low cost but yet high quality), but it is not feasible to just cut the breadwinner sports.

    1. Being a person with an ENOUGH sign in my front yard, I can share how sad I am by all the reports coming out of the atletic department. I fully supported a new stadium and even alcohol sales, but stood against zoning changes. Between the cheerleader lawsuit, football, and now also the baseball team, NU Athletic Department really needs to reevaluate and shift its priorities to student health and safety. I think the ENOUGH sign actually still rings true. ENOUGH to NU not taking care of its students.

  6. I assume there are players that participated in the hazing that are still
    On the team. Will they be held accountable for their behavior?

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