Pat Fitzgerald and both coordinators recap what they learned about the 'Cats in training camp
Veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who has won 344 games as a college assistant coach and coordinator, is in his sixth season with the Wildcats and his 43rd college season overall. He began his Wildcat tenure Jan. 18, 2008.
Hankwitz immediately had a measurable impact in his first season in Evanston, making the Wildcats' defense the fifth-most improved unit in the nation. After allowing 31.0 points per game in 2007, Northwestern surrendered just 20.15 in 2008 to rank 27th in the country and fourth in the Big Ten. The Wildcats also ranked in the top-30 nationally in sacks (18th), pass efficiency defense (25th) and tackles for loss (28th).
The Wildcats posted 20 defensive shutout quarters on the year and held four opponents to under 100 yards rushing -- including a school-record 4-yard performance against Ohio. In the 2008 Valero Alamo Bowl, Northwestern's defense held Missouri, which touted one of the nation's most potent offenses, to 286 yards of total offense and 17 points through four quarters of play (Missouri came into the game averaging 497.5 yards of offense per game and 43.2 ppg). The Wildcats eventually fell 30-23 in overtime to the Tigers.
Hankwitz's 2009 defense was turnover-oriented, ranking 11th nationally with 30 takeaways. That number was comprised of 17 interceptions (16th in the country) and 13 fumble recoveries (21st). In 2010, NU limited half of its regular-season opponents to 105 total rushing yards or less while holding two foes to under 50 yards passing. Northwestern's defense also did a great job getting off the field, ranking third in the Big Ten with a 36.1 percent opponent's third-down conversion rate. Four members of his defense earned All-Big Ten awards, led by second-team honorees (media) Brian Peters and Vince Browne.
Hankwitz's defense made great strides over the back half of the 2011 season, highlighted by its effort in a road upset of No. 9 Nebraska on Nov. 5. NU limited the Huskers to a season-low 122 yards rushing -- 101 yards below their final season average -- and forced two turnovers. It also marked the first of three straight games in which the 'Cat defense held an opponent to three points or fewer in a half. Hankwitz' safeties each earned extensive postseason recognition, with Peters garnering first-team All-Big Ten honors (media) and Ibraheim Campbell being named a Freshman All-American by numerous outlets.
In 2012, Hankwitz oversaw a defense that was vastly improved from a year prior, ranking No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing defense and holding eight of NU's 13 opponents to 20 points or fewer. The 'Cats thrived at creating timely turnovers, with NU leading the Big Ten in turnover margin (+13) and tied for fifth in the nation in fumbles recovered (16).
Hakwitz' unit also made its mark with late-game stands in 2012, preventing possible go-ahead, fourth-quarter drives against Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Minnesota and Michigan State as well as in NU's landmark Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl win. Hankwitz' unit recorded four takeaways against Mississippi State -- the third straight game to close the year it had four takeawasy -- to deflate their SEC opponent and secure a bowl victory for the 'Cats.
Hankwitz began coaching in the college ranks in 1970 as a graduate assistant at Michigan, his alma mater, and has worked every year since then at an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) institution. He has served as a defensive coordinator at six different schools (Western Michigan, Colorado [two times], Kansas, Texas A&M, Arizona and Wisconsin) since 1982.
Hankwitz spent the last two years as the Badgers' defensive coordinator, touting one of the nation's best defenses in 2006. Wisconsin was No. 1 in the country in pass efficiency defense (84.19 rating, third-lowest in Big Ten history), No. 2 in scoring defense (12.1 ppg) and No. 5 in total defense (253.1 ypg). The Badgers limited six of their opponents to 10 points or less and allowed just three foes to reach the 20-point mark. In two years with the Badgers, Hankwitz coached 13 players who received at least honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
Prior to Wisconsin, Hankwitz spent two seasons as defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Colorado. He served as the program's interim head coach for the Buffaloes' 2005 Champs Sports Bowl game against Clemson. CU won the Big 12 North Division title in both 2004 and 2005. Hankwitz had moved to Colorado after serving as Arizona's defensive coordinator (and later interim head coach) in 2003.
Before his stint at Arizona, Hankwitz was the defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach (he also coached inside linebackers and punters) at Texas A&M (1997-2002) where he guided the Aggies' famed "Wrecking Crew" defense. During that span he had three top-10 ranked defenses, two top-20 defenses, won two South Division titles and one Big 12 championship. Among Hankwitz's standout players at Texas A&M was Dat Nguyen, who won the Lombardi and Bednarik Awards, as well as being named Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year in 1998.
Hankwitz spent two seasons (1995-96) as defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach for head coach Glen Mason at Kansas. The 1995 Jayhawks recorded the school's first 10-win season since 1905, played in the Aloha Bowl and ranked 10th in the final national polls.
Hankwitz enjoyed a highly successful 10-year run in his first tenure with Colorado (1985-94). After coaching outside linebackers and punters his first three years with the Buffs, he was named the program's defensive coordinator in 1988. Colorado put together the nation's fifth-best record (58-11-4) from 1989-94, including a national title in 1990, three Big 8 titles, two appearances each in the Orange and Fiesta Bowls, and six national top-20 rankings (including three top-five finishes). The Buffs' 1989 and 1991 teams set the school record for fewest points allowed (150) in a season. Among Hankwitz's standout players at CU were Jim Thorpe Award winners Deon Figures (1992) and Chris Hudson (1994), and Butkus Award winner Alfred Williams (1990).
Hankwitz was defensive coordinator (with additional responsibilities for the secondary, punters and punt team) at Western Michigan from 1982-84. The 1982 WMU defense allowed only 72 points, the fewest in Division I-A or I-AA. He was the outside linebackers and punting coach at Purdue from 1977-81. Prior to his time at Purdue, Hankwitz was the outside linebackers and secondary coach (along with punt return/punt rush) at Arizona from 1973-76.
Hankwitz began his coaching career as a graduate assistant (1970-72) at Michigan under head coach Bo Schembechler. As a defensive G.A., Hankwitz helped the Wolverines to two Big Ten titles, a 30-3 record, three top-10 national rankings and a 1971 Rose Bowl appearance. As a player at Michigan, he earned three letters and started on the 1969 Big Ten championship squad that played in the Rose Bowl. He earned a bachelor's of science degree in education.
Teams for which Hankwitz has coached have had a winning record in 33 of his 39 years. Ten of those clubs won conference championships and 12 more were league runners-up. He has coached in 24 bowl games, including every major New Year's Day bowl game -- Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl and Capital One Bowl.
In his 24 years as a defensive coordinator, his defense has ranked in the nation's top 25 on 14 occasions. As coordinator, his teams have 34 wins over ranked programs, including eight wins over top-five clubs and two wins over No. 1-ranked teams.
Hankwitz also has coached 14 first-team All-Americans (including four straight punters at Colorado), five conference defensive players of the year, 46 first-team all-conference choices and 11 team MVP's. He has recruited eight players who went on to play in the NFL. As a coordinator, Hankwitz has won 194 games and seven championships, and overall has won 313 games (313-143-7, .684) as a college coach (including his three years as a G.A. at Michigan).
He was born in Ludington, Mich., and graduated from Mason County (Scottville, Mich.) Central High School, where he lettered in four sports: football, basketball, track and baseball. He and his wife, Cathy, have one son, Jacob.
The Hankwitz family: Mike, Jacob and Cathy (photographed at Northwestern's "North" Beach")