May 1, 2008
National Football Foundation/College Hall of Fame Release
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Pat Fitzgerald, the heart and soul of Northwestern's back-to-back Big Ten championship teams in 1995 and 1996, has received college football's highest honor, earning induction into the National Football Foundation's (NFF) College Football Hall of Fame. The
was made Thursday in New York City by NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell and ESPN's Dari Nowkhah.
Fitzgerald, along with 12 other former players and two college coaches, will formally be inducted at the organization's annual Awards Dinner at the prestigious Waldorf=Astoria in New York City on Dec. 9, 2008. He will then be officially enshrined at the Hall in South Bend, Ind., in the summer of 2009.
He is the 15th Northwestern player and/or coach to be inducted into College Football's Hall of Fame.
"I'm truly honored and humbled with this incredible honor," said Fitzgerald. "This achievement speaks to the success of our teams that won Big Ten championships in 1995 and 1996. My teammates are as much a part of this as I am.
"I want to thank the National Football Foundation and the Honors Court, as well as Chris Kearney and the Chicago chapter. I also need to recognize our coaching staff at Northwestern, led by Gary Barnett, who helped not only myself, but an entire program realize that we could compete at the highest level and win championships. Our successes as a team and program helped me achieve this honor, which symbolizes the pinnacle of achievement in our sport."
Fitzgerald was front and center in the renaissance of the Northwestern football program. In 1995, he was the leader of a suffocating Wildcat defense that led the nation in scoring defense and anchored NU's storybook run to the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl.
Fitzgerald ended the year by being named winner of both the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Awards as the nation's top defensive player. He also was the Big Ten, Chevrolet and Sports Illustrated Defensive Player of the Year. He accomplished all of this, despite the fact he broke his leg in the second-to-last regular-season game.
Fitzgerald recovered from that injury, and in 1996 he again led the Wildcats to a share of the Big Ten title. As a result, he once again won the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards, becoming the first two-time winner of both honors. Fitzgerald also was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year again, and Linebacker of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus. He also was the recipient of Northwestern's George Ballantine Jr., Memorial Leadership Award.
A two-time first-team All-American, Fitzgerald started 23 career games and totaled 299 tackles, including 20 for loss. He also forced five fumbles and intercepted three passes.
"This is a tremendous honor for Pat and one that's richly deserved," said Jim Phillips, Northwestern's director of athletics since April 14. "I've gotten to know him fairly well the past few months, and I can't imagine anyone having a greater passion for Northwestern, and specifically our football program. He was the leader of some outstanding teams. We are truly thrilled for Pat and his family on this wonderful achievement."
Following a brief stint in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and a short tenure in the business world, Fitzgerald returned to college football in 1998 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Maryland. He then worked as a GA at Colorado in 1999 before earning his first full-time coaching position at Idaho in 2000. In 2001, former NU coach Randy Walker brought Fitzgerald back to Evanston, where he served as a Wildcat assistant for five years.
Fitzgerald then was named Northwestern's head football coach following Walker's untimely death in July of 2006. He is entering his third season as the Wildcats' head coach.
In February 2003, Fitzgerald was inducted into Northwestern's Athletic Hall of Fame.
A native of Orland Park, Ill., and a graduate of Carl Sandburg High School, Fitzgerald resides in Evanston with his wife, Stacy, and two sons, Jack (3) and Ryan (19 months).
Quotes on Pat Fitzgerald's College Football Hall of Fame Induction
Northwestern Head Coach (1992-98)
"It is a tremendous honor for Northwestern University, for everybody who played with Pat and for the entire Chicago area that Pat Fitzgerald is going into the College Football Hall of Fame at such a young age and so soon after he played. This just does not happen very often and it is a tremendous honor for everyone. I know Pat would want to share this honor with all of his teammates and his coaches. I am so proud for him and of him."
Former Northwestern Defensive Coordinator and Fitzgerald's Linebacker Coach
Current Penn State Linebackers Coach
"I am thrilled for Pat that he has been selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Pat's performance and leadership were instrumental in leading Northwestern to the nation's No. 1 scoring defense in 1995, and to winning the Big Ten Championship in 1995 and 1996. In addition to being physically tough, what made Pat the outstanding player he was are all of the intangibles he possessed. He was a heady player with great instincts and fundamentally was one of the best linebackers I have ever coached. Pat played with tremendous passion and a relentless resolve. He also was a natural leader and team captain who motivated all around him to raise their levels of play. Pat is most deserving of his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame."
Former Northwestern Assistant Coach who recruited Fitzgerald
Current Bowling Green Head Coach
"He was one of the first kids I recruited when I was coaching at Northwestern. He went on to have a great career, and obviously is doing great things now. He is a quality guy from a great family situation -- just a good south-side Irish guy. It doesn't surprise me that he is a head coach at the age he is. He was the heart and soul, nuts and bolts of that Rose Bowl defense. He didn't get to play in the Rose Bowl because of his injury, and I remember going into the training room after the game he got hurt in and I told him, `we'll be ok, we'll be alright without you.' He looked up at me and said, `coach, I'll be there.' Of course he meant in spirit, and he really was. This is a great honor for him."
Fitzgerald's high school (Carl Sandburg High) Linebacker Coach
"I think it is a great honor for Pat and for the University and his family. In retrospect, Pat was the type of student-athlete that makes people love to coach. In high school he was very unselfish, very motivated and a tremendous leader. Most of all he was a great role model. He has never forgotten his roots, always giving back to his community and his high school. It always has been my pleasure to be associated with Patrick Fitzgerald."
Former Northwestern Director of Athletics, who hired Fitzgerald to replace Randy Walker
"I'm so pleased for Pat. It's a wonderful
tribute to him -- he had a tremendous career as a player and continues to
do great things for college football. Pat was a talented athlete, and
was instrumental is reviving the Northwestern program, but what really
sets him apart is his passion for football and life. This honor is very