Pat Fitzgerald

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Pat Fitzgerald
20130103 Pat Fitzgerald (1).jpg
Fitzgerald acknowledges the Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd two days after leading Northwestern to victory at the 2013 Gator Bowl (January 3, 2013)
Sport(s) Football
Current position
Title Head coach
Team Northwestern
Conference Big Ten
Record 85–65
Annual salary $2 million[citation needed]
Biographical details
Born (1974-12-02) December 2, 1974 (age 42)
Orland Park, Illinois
Playing career
1993–1996 Northwestern
Position(s) Linebacker, slot receiver
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1998 Maryland (GA)
1999 Colorado (GA)
2000 Idaho (LB/ST)
2001 Northwestern (DB)
2002–2003 Northwestern (LB)
2004–2005 Northwestern (LB/RC)
2006–present Northwestern
Head coaching record
Overall 85–65
Bowls 2–5
Accomplishments and honors
Awards
Bronko Nagurski Trophy (1995, 1996)
Chuck Bednarik Award (1995, 1996)
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1996)
2× Consensus All-American (1995, 1996)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2008 (profile)

Patrick William Fitzgerald Jr. (born (1974-12-02)December 2, 1974) is the current head coach of the Northwestern University Wildcats football team. He was selected after the unexpected death of Randy Walker and announced at a press conference on July 7, 2006.[1] He was 31 making him at that time, the youngest head football coach in the Big Ten Conference and NCAA Division I FBS by five years. As a linebacker for Northwestern from 1993 to 1996, he twice won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in college football. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Playing career[edit]

Fitzgerald starred at linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s, helping to lead the team to a 10–1 regular season record in 1995 and a berth in the 1996 Rose Bowl, the school's second ever bowl appearance and the first since 1949. Known as "Fitz" to the Northwestern faithful, he personified the Wildcats' blue-collar, opportunistic defense. He recorded eleven tackles in Northwestern's victory over then #9 Notre Dame in South Bend which was the first Wildcats' victory over the Irish since 1962. Against #7 Michigan, Fitzgerald led the defensive effort with 14 tackles (including two tackles for loss) in the Wildcats' 19-13 win, the first for Northwestern in Ann Arbor since 1959. At one point during the 1995 season he was averaging over 13 tackles a game while on his way to Consensus All-America honors. Fitzgerald was unable to play in the Rose Bowl, however, after breaking his leg in the next-to-last game of the 1995 season against Iowa. Fitzgerald returned for the 1996 season, leading the Wildcats to a 9-3 overall record, a second straight Big Ten Championship and second consecutive New Year's Day bowl, the 1997 Citrus Bowl.

In his playing career, he was twice named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was a two-time Consensus All-American. Fitzgerald won both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award in 1995 and again in 1996, becoming the first two-time winner of both honors.

Fitzgerald is the 15th Northwestern player or coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was honored at a ceremony on December 9, 2008 in New York City and enshrined in the Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana in July 2009.[2]

Coaching career[edit]

Fitzgerald at "Meet the Team" night, August 22, 2008

After graduation, he joined the coaching staff at the University of Maryland in 1998, under then Terrapin head coach Ron Vanderlinden who had been Fitzgerald's defensive coordinator during his playing days at Northwestern. He then moved on to Colorado under his former Northwestern head coach, Gary Barnett. He took a job at the University of Idaho before returning to Northwestern, where he served as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator until his unexpected promotion to head coach after the death of Randy Walker.

The Wildcats struggled in Fitzgerald's first season as head coach going only 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten.

The 'Cats improved to 6-6 the following year before going 9-3 in the 2008 regular season (5-3 in conference play) and playing in the Alamo Bowl. After the season, Fitzgerald was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus.

The 2009 season saw the Wildcats go into Iowa City and knock off Iowa 17-10 on November 7. The win over Iowa came when the Hawkeyes were ranked #4 in the BCS standings and is, to date, the highest ranked opponent ever defeated by a Fitzgerald coached team. Two weeks later, the Wildcats knocked off #14 Wisconsin in Evanston for the second upset win of the season. Northwestern finished off the '09 campaign with a thrilling game in the 2010 Outback Bowl that saw Wildcat quarterback Mike Kafka set not only school records with 47 completions on 78 attempts for 532 passing yards but set all-time all-bowl records in those categories as well. The Wildcats fell 38-35 in overtime to Auburn (who would win the BCS Championship the following season) when a fake field goal attempt fell short. Nearly six million viewers watched the Wildcats play in their first New Year's Day bowl since 1996 in one of the most entertaining games of the 2009–2010 bowl season.

The Wildcats' winning ways under Fitzgerald continued in 2010, highlighted by a dramatic last minute 21-17 upset of then #13 Iowa en route a third straight winning season and a third consecutive bowl game.

In 2011, the Fitzgerald-led Wildcats defeated #9 Nebraska in Lincoln 28-27 with back-up quarterback Kain Colter guiding the Wildcats in the second half.

Fitzgerald became only the second coach in school history to coach two nine-win Wildcat teams during the 2012 campaign that saw the 'Cats go 9-3 in the regular season and 5-3 in the Big Ten. Northwestern played in the third New Year's Day bowl game under Fitzgerald when the team accepted an invitation to play in the 2013 Gator Bowl. Fitzgerald then guided the Wildcats to their first bowl victory in sixty-four years when he led Northwestern to a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. The '12 team finished the season with a 10-3 record which tied the 1995 and 1903 teams for the most wins in school history. The Gator Bowl win was also Fitzgerald's 50th win as head coach, allowing him to pass Pappy Waldorf as the winningest coach in Northwestern history.

The 2013 campaign started with high expectations for the Wildcats and hopes of contending for a conference title. The 'Cats started the season ranked #22 in the pre-season AP poll and roared to a 4-0 start. ESPN College GameDay came to Evanston for the first time since 1995 as the #18 Wildcats took on the #4 Ohio State Buckeyes on national television. A controversial fourth down call that saw the officials rule that 'Cats quarterback Kain Colter was stopped when replays indicated Colter had made the line to gain proved pivotal in the 38-30 defeat. The season began to be marred by injuries as All-American Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter missed significant playing time with injuries. The Wildcats then dropped four consecutive games that could have just as easily been won. First, NU dropped a 20-17 game against Minnesota, then the 'Cats lost 17-10 to Iowa in overtime. Perhaps the most bitter loss of the season came at Nebraska when the Huskers converted a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired to win the game. The following week the 'Cats clung to a 9-6 lead over Michigan when the Wolverines ran their field goal team on with seconds to play; Michigan converted the field goal and won in triple overtime. Northwestern ended a disappointing season with a win however: a 37-34 victory over rival Illinois. The 2013 team finished 5-7, Fitzgerald's second losing campaign since his inaugural season as the Wildcats head coach.

In 2014, the Wildcats entered the year having lost two major weapons from seasons past: All-American Venric Mark transferred and leading wide receiver Christian Jones was lost to a season-ending knee injury. The 'Cats started 0-2 with a loss to MAC power Northern Illinois before ripping off three straight wins. After back-to-back blowout losses to #19 Nebraska and Iowa the Cats had a chance to knock off Michigan at home. Late in the game, Trevor Siemian threw a touchdown pass with three seconds left to pull the 'Cats within one at 10-9. Coach Fitzgerald decided to go for the two point conversion and the win but Sieman slipped after taking the snap and was downed by the Wolverines, ending the game with another loss. The highlight of the season came the following week however when Northwestern returned to South Bend for the first time since 1995 to take on the #18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Siemian threw for 284 yards and freshman Justin Jackson rushed for 149 yards and a score as the 'Cats scored 10 points the final four minutes to tie the game with seconds remaining. In overtime, Northwestern held the Irish to a missed field goal try before Wildcats kicker Jack Mitchell hit his fourth field goal of the game to give the 'Cats a 43-40 overtime victory. After a lopsided win the following week against Purdue the 5-6 'Cats played Illinois for a chance to return to a bowl game. The Wildcats came out flat in the game and the Illini raced to a 47-33 victory that kept the 'Cats home for the holidays for the second straight year.

After suffering through back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in his Northwestern tenure, Fitzgerald faced an uncertain season in 2015. The team had to replace senior quarterback Trevor Siemian who was drafted in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and turned to redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson. Sophomore running back Justin Jackson, who had burst onto the national scene with a powerful performance during NU's upset of Notre Dame in South Bend, was named the starting running back prior to the season. In the season opener, the Wildcats hosted #21 Stanford and the Cardinal were heavily favored. Thorson made his impression felt early when he dashed 42 yards for a touchdown that gave the Wildcats a lead. Jackson contributed with 134 tough yards as the Wildcat defense did the rest. Cornerback Kyle Quinero sealed the game when he intercepted Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan in the end zone with less than a minute to play. The turnover gave the 'Cats a 16-6 win and their first win over Stanford since 1958. The Cardinal would go on to win the 2016 Rose Bowl and finish ranked #3 in the nation. The Wildcats then went on a five game winning streak rising to #13 in the nation before getting blanked 38-0 by Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Cats then lost to Iowa the following week and a once promising season began to teeter on the brink of collapse. In a gut-check game at Lincoln the next week, the Wildcats edged Nebraska 30-28 powered by a 68 yard Clayton Thorson run and a 72 yard Nick VanHoose interception return for a touchdown. After three straight wins the 'Cats traveled to Camp Randall stadium to take on the #20 Wisconsin. The game was exceptionally close and with the Wildcats leading 13-7, the Badgers threatened late moving to the NU one yard line. Northwestern's defense held firm with a critical sack and a tremendous goal line stand to preserve the victory. The Wilcats ended the season with a strong 24-14 win over the Illini, avenging the loss of a season before. At 10-2 the Wildcats were invited to the 2016 Outback Bowl where they faced Tennessee. The 'Cats played competitively in the first half; Tennessee clung to a 10-6 lead with less than three minutes to play. But the Vols punched a touchdown in before half and the game became lopsided in the second half. The Wildcats 45-6 loss was punctuated by a 100 yard interception return for touchdown by future Kansas City Chiefs star Eric Berry on the game's final play. Still, the 10-3 finish was gave Fitzgerald his second ten win season as the Wildcats head coach and tied the '03, '95 and '12 teams as the most wins in school history. Northwestern has had four ten-win seasons in its history; Fitzgerald has been part of three of them.

In 2016 the Wildcats looked to build on the success of the season before with a still very young group. But before the season the challenges began when star cornerback Keith Watkins II suffered a knee injury in August practice. Cornerback Matthew Walker, a defensive stalwart, was forced to retire after two games due to repeated concussions. The season started poorly with Northwestern blowing home games to Western Michigan and Illinois State of the FCS. Against Western Michigan, Clayton Thorson fumbled the ball going into the end zone for what would have likely been a game clinching score. While Western Michigan would go on to a 13-1 record, a MAC title and a Cotton Bowl berth, the loss stung as the Wildcats started the season 0-1. Against Illinois State, the Wildcat offense faltered and the Redbirds kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to stun the 'Cats 9-7. Despite starting the season at 0-2, Coach Fitzgerald did not panic and neither did his young team. The Wildcats won 3 of their next four games including victories at Iowa and at Michigan State. With the ship righted at 4-3 the Wildcats faced #6 Ohio State in Columbus. The game was tight throughout with Ohio State escaping with a 24-20 victory. At 5-6 and going into the final game of the season against Illinois the Wildcats were determined not to repeat the 2014 season and miss the chance to go to a bowl by losing to the rival Illini. In 2016, they succeeded by rolling the Illini 42-21 in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated. At 6-6, the 'Cats were invited to the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl to be played at historic Yankee Stadium. In the game, the 'Cats would face the #22 ranked Pitt Panthers, a team that had given the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers their only loss on the season. Unsurprisingly, the 8-4 Panthers were a double digit favorite going into the game. The 'Cats raced out to a 14-3 lead as the defense stuffed a fourth and goal attempt by Pitt and junior running back Justin Johnson began to take the game over. The Panthers rallied and even took a 17-14 lead in the third quarter. But Jackson - who rushed for a Northwestern bowl game record 224 yards and 3 touchdowns - and the Cats wouldn't be denied and showed it as he rumbled for a 40 yard touchdown to retake the lead. The 'Cats defense stood tall. After Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman was knocked out of the game on a sack, the Wildcats intercepted backup Ben DiNucci twice in the redzone. The turnovers preserved a 31-24 Northwestern victory which was just the third in school history. The Cats finished the season at 7-6 which was Fitzgerald's sixth winning season.

Fitzgerald's 77 overall wins and 41 Big Ten Conference wins are both school records. In eleven seasons, Fitzgerald has coached six winning teams and one team that finished the season at .500. From 2008 to 2012, he led the Wildcats to five consecutive bowl appearances, including three of their six all-time New Year's Day bowl appearances. He is one of only two coaches in school history to lead Northwestern to a bowl game victory and has the most bowl game victories in school history. Fitzgerald is one of only three coaches in school history to guide Wildcat football teams to three consecutive winning seasons and the first since Ara Parseghian coached the Wildcats to winning years from 1958–1960; Fitzgerald's .553 winning percentage at NU is also the highest since Parseghian.

Coach Fitzgerald is a huge supporter of Northwestern athletics other than football. As the 2016-17 Northwestern Wildcats men's basketball team made their run to Northwestern's first ever NCAA Tournament berth, Fitzgerald often cheered on the team. When the Wildcats traveled to Salt Lake City to face Vanderbilt in the first round, Fitzgerald was seen sitting with Wildcat fans and leading the cheers during the game. After the Wildcats beat the Commodores for their first ever tourney win, Fitzgerald went to the locker room where he excitedly celebrated with the players. Before the Wildcats' second round round game against Gonzaga, Fitzgerald led the 'Cats faithful at a pep rally in Salt Lake City.

Fitzgerald does not shy away from Northwestern's status as a world class university often using it to recruit smart and talented athletes rather than using it as a reason for why the school cannot be competitive in football. One of the NU football program's mantras is: "Football is not an excuse for academics and academics is not an excuse for football."

Personal[edit]

Fitzgerald resides in Northfield, Illinois with his wife, Stacy, and three sons, Jack, Ryan, and Brendan. He purchased a $2.3 million newly constructed home in January 2010.[3] A born and bred Chicagoan, Fitzgerald is a huge fan of the area pro sports teams often using his Twitter feed to support the Bears, Blackhawks and White Sox. While Fitzgerald has led the Wrigley Field crowd in the iconic "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" song during the seventh inning stretch of a Cubs game, as a South Sider he is a die-hard White Sox fan. Fitzgerald signed a ten-year contract extension with Northwestern before the 2011 season. While Northwestern, as a private institution, is not required to release compensation figures the school's tax data released in 2013 shows that Fitzgerald earned $2.2 million in 2011; he is widely believed to be the university's highest paid employee.[4]

Head coaching record[edit]

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Northwestern Wildcats (Big Ten Conference) (2006–present)
2006 Northwestern 4–8 2–6 T–8th
2007 Northwestern 6–6 3–5 T–7th
2008 Northwestern 9–4 5–3 T–4th L Alamo
2009 Northwestern 8–5 5–3 T–4th L Outback
2010 Northwestern 7–6 3–5 T–7th L TicketCity
2011 Northwestern 6–7 3–5 5th (Legends) L Meineke Car Care
2012 Northwestern 10–3 5–3 3rd (Legends) W Gator 16 17
2013 Northwestern 5–7 1–7 6th (Legends)
2014 Northwestern 5–7 3–5 6th (West)
2015 Northwestern 10–3 6–2 T–2nd (West) L Outback 22 23
2016 Northwestern 7–6 5–4 T–4th (West) W Pinstripe
2017 Northwestern 8–3 6–2 2nd (West)
Northwestern: 85–65 47–50
Total: 85–65
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title

Coaching tree[edit]

Assistants under Pat Fitzgerald who became NCAA or NFL head coaches:

References[edit]

External links[edit]