Wildcat for Life: Pat Fitzgerald has earned the right to stay in Evanston as long has he likes
After Northwestern defeated Utah 31-20 in the Holiday Bowl, coach Pat Fitzgerald called himself a Wildcat for life. The comment alluded to a report from nfl.com writer Ian Rapoport on Sunday that the Green Bay Packers want to interview Fitzgerald for the team’s head coaching position. Fitzgerald wanted everyone to know “Go Cats” wasn’t just a way to punctuate press conferences and interviews, but a credo to live by.
We already knew about his unyielding dedication to the program. No one player or coach in the conference is more associated with their university. Save the Jim Harbaugh and Michigan comps for a later time, his years of service don’t equate to Fitzgerald’s. Fitzgerald is Northwestern, a university known for people who talk about sports more than people who compete in them. No one doubts his commitment to the school, and in true Fitzgerald fashion he squashed the rumors before they took on any sort of life.
The most daft of Keystone Cops sees the lies drawn between Northwestern and Green Bay. Former Northwestern Athletic Director Mark Murphy is the president and CEO of the Packers. Murphy hired Fitzgerald at Northwestern. This is not some sort of lifetime achievement award from Murphy and the Packers to Fitzgerald. The organization is at a breaking point in efforts to find a coach to get the most out of the three or four years quarterback Aaron Rodgers has left. They won’t waste their time in efforts to solely raise Fitzgerald’s national profile though interest alone is enough to raise Fitzgerald’s profile to the benefit of players who signed their national letter of intent and sophomores and juniors in high school.
Recruits like to be assured the coach who courted them will be there for the duration of their time playing football. There’s a genuine nature to Fitzgerald absent from most other college coaches. He’s a little intense and a little corny, but he comes off as a genuine guy while avoiding coach-speak. His uniqueness is not an indictment of the sport but a compliment of how Fitzgerald grew the program since he took over the program after the death of Randy Walker before the 2006 season started.He’s ushered it to unprecedented heights with three 10-win seasons since 2012. He also played on some of the school’s most successful teams that won an outright B1G championship in 1995 and split with Ohio State in 1996. Schools like Michigan have expressed interest, but it’s only grown Fitzgerald’s profile and built up the prestige of the Northwestern program. The interview request confirms Fitzgerald’s growing reputation and that’s good enough for him and good enough for the health of the Northwestern athletics.
Fitzgerald’s dismissal of any interest in a head coaching gig with the Packers pairs nicely with the new Walter Athletic Center dedicated in August of 2018. Northwestern can still recruit on its lofty academic standards and the close proximity to Chicago, but now it has the sort of athletic facilities on par with any other school in the conference. No longer is it job placement and a potential cabinet position in the White House alone to generate interest in recruits. Facilities, coupled with the NFL’s rubber-stamping of Fitzgerald’s skills as a head coach will make it tough for any student athlete to turn down an opportunity to play for the second-longest tenured head coach in the conference.
It’ll be up to him to decide how long he stays at Northwestern. Nothing indicates a change of heart anytime soon. Northwestern’s marketing department christened itself “Chicago’s Team,” it’ll be Fitzgerald’s team for as long as he likes. He’s earned it.