By Shawn Muller–
CHICAGO (CBS) When Pat Fitzgerald took over as the head football coach at Northwestern University, after the untimely death of the late Randy Walker five seasons ago, it was hard to say how much success the then 31-year old Orland Park-native would have.
It’s not every day that a kid—for a lack of a better word—gets a shot to run a Division 1 football program…let alone one from the Big Ten.
But Pat Fitzgerald was not your ordinary 31-year old…and this was not some random guy getting his shot. Just like Joe Paterno is synonymous with Penn State, Woody Hayes with Ohio State, and Paul “Bear” Bryant is with Alabama, Pat Fitzgerald IS Northwestern University through and through.
No, I am not comparing Fitzgerald to three of the biggest legends in college football because of his successes on the gridiron. I am comparing him with those legends because, like them, coach “Fitz” bleeds the school colors of his university, and he was meant to be the head football coach at his Alma Mater.
When the university announced on Tuesday that Fitzgerald was given a new contract extension–one that would keep the head Wildcat in charge on the North Shore of Lake Michigan through 2020–every person involved with Northwestern University should have been very excited with the news.
You see, in this day and age, money is the top motivator for any person in any profession. Everyone is always on the lookout for a bigger and better opportunity. Once that opportunity presents itself, it doesn’t take long for many of us to jump on it as quickly as possible.
A lot of coaches–especially young rising talents–would jump at bigger and “sexier” coaching opportunities if presented…and you can’t blame them one bit.
Before hiring–or should I say “settling” for Brady Hoke–the University of Michigan was interested in Fitzgerald. Before hiring Brian Kelly, his name was being tossed around as the possible replacement of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.
This is not to say that Fitzgerald would have left Northwestern for either job, but I am sure that if he had made it known that he was serious about listening to other offers, both schools would have made more of an effort to see exactly where his head was at.
But Fitzgerald is and most likely always will be a Wildcat.
And how could you blame him?
He has one of the best coaching jobs in America when you think about it.
It is not like he is coaching at a school like Florida, Oklahoma, or some other “blue blood” program, where 10-win seasons, conference championships and competing for a national title is expected.
He is at a school that prioritizes academics over athletics.
He is at a school that doesn’t have a blind affinity for winning anything and everything.
Outside of the unrealistic-lunatic fringe of the Wildcat fan base, no one expects him to compete for conference and national championships every season.
All he has to do is sustain the level of success that the university has seen for the past 15-plus seasons: make a run at a conference championship every few years or so, make it to bowl games on a regular basis (which by today’s standards, where a 6-6 record makes you bowl-eligible, isn’t asking a whole lot), and presto: Fitzgerald could coach at his Alma Mater for the rest of his life.
He definitely deserved the contract extension, and I am glad that Fitzgerald will be in Evanston for a long time to come.
Pat Fitzgerald is one of the true “good guys” in college football today, and any program would be fortunate to call him their head football coach.
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24. Read more of his blogs here.