July 7, 2006
Photo Gallery | Press Conference
News Conference Transcript
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EVANSTON, Ill.-- Pat Fitzgerald, a two-time national defensive player of the year for Northwestern and an assistant football coach since 2001, will assume Northwestern's head coaching duties, effective immediately. The announcement was made today by Northwestern Director of Athletics Mark Murphy.
Fitzgerald, who becomes the youngest Division I-A head football coach at age 31 (birthdate is Dec. 2, 1974), follows seven-year head coach Randy Walker, who died suddenly on June 29. Fitzgerald is the 29th football coach in school history.
Fitzgerald was one of the leaders on Northwestern's two Big Ten championship teams in 1995 and 1996. The '95 squad won the Big Ten title (8-0) outright and went to the Rose Bowl, while the '96 team captured a share of the title and played in the Citrus Bowl. In 2001, after serving as an assistant at the University of Idaho, Walker hired Fitzgerald to coach the Wildcats' defensive secondary. In 2002, he moved to linebackers coach, and then in 2004, added the recruiting coordinator to his title.
"I've always dreamed of this day," said Fitzgerald. "I'm excited to lead our players and staff. As a former football player and graduate, I have an incredible passion for Northwestern and its football program.
"While this has been my goal from the moment I began coaching, this is also bittersweet. We've all had a difficult week with the loss of Coach Walker, my friend and mentor. It has been a roller coaster of emotions the past week and this is a time for the entire Northwestern community to rally around and support our players, as well as Tammy (Walker) and her family. But I'm determined to continue Coach Walk's legacy and build upon his successes. Northwestern will continue to have a football program built upon great work ethic, attitude and investment."
Named one of college football's top recruiters by SI.com recently, Fitzgerald has played an integral role in both coaching and recruiting during his five years as a Northwestern assistant. He mentored two-time All-Big Ten linebacker Tim McGarigle, the all-time leading tackler in NCAA history. McGarigle is now a member of the St. Louis Rams.
"I've been very impressed with Pat in the three years that I have worked with him," said Murphy. "He has all the qualities that you look for in a head coach-he's bright, hard-working, a natural leader and a great communicator. Randy had tremendous respect for Pat.
"On a number of occasions, Randy told me that he would like Pat to replace him as head coach. Of course, neither of us thought it would be this soon."
Prior to Northwestern, Fitzgerald was a defensive graduate assistant at Maryland (1998) and Colorado (1999) before taking his first full-time position at Idaho in 2000.
Fitzgerald was front and center in the renaissance of the Northwestern football program. In 1995, he was the heart and soul 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. All this, despite the fact that 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 games in his career and totaled 299 tackles, including 20 for loss. He also forced five fumbles and intercepted three passes.
Fitzgerald signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys following his Northwestern career, and played in three preseason games before taking a one-year hiatus from football.
"Although Pat is relatively young, I am convinced that he is the right person to lead the program into the future," said Murphy. "He is highly respected by our players and coaches. He has grown tremendously during his time here, and has been very effective in his role as recruiting coordinator. He knows Northwestern well, having excelled here as both a player and coach, and will build upon Randy's successes and keep our players, coaches and Northwestern community moving forward."
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 currently resides in Evanston with his wife, Stacy, and son, Jack, born in November 2004. The couple is expecting their second child in September.
What They're Saying About Pat Fitzgerald
"This would have been Randy's choice. The connection of Pat, from his days of playing on championship teams at Northwestern, then coaching with Randy for the last five years during that success, and now becoming the head coach will really keep all of the positive things at NU going in the same direction.
"As sad as I am right now, I am so happy for Pat and the choice of him to succeed Randy as head coach. I know Randy would be, too. Pat is such a special guy. He and Stacy will do a great job."
Gary Barnett, former Northwestern head coach (1992-98)
Gary Barnett was Northwestern's head coach when Pat Fitzgerald was named Defensive Player of the Year twice and hired him as a defensive graduate assistant at Colorado in 1999.
"Pat personifies Northwestern football. The honors he received as a player, the way he handled himself as a student-athlete and the name he has made for himself in the college football world, makes it a real natural fit for Northwestern. Pat loves Northwestern; he will be a guy that the Northwestern community can count on to represent them for years and years. I think it's a great move for everybody."
Tom Cable, Atlanta Falcons, offensive line coach
Tom Cable was Idaho's head football coach and hired Pat as a full-time assistant coach in 2000, his first full-time position.
"Northwestern is very fortunate to have one of their own leading them into the future. Pat Fitzgerald will provide a tremendous passion for those players and the entire Northwestern family. His integrity and vision will no doubt lead them on this journey."
Ron Vanderlinden, Penn State University, linebacker coach
Ron Vanderlinden was Northwestern's linebacker coach during Pat's playing days at Northwestern.
"When Pat was a player it was easy to see that he was special far beyond his outstanding football ability. Pat was a natural leader. He had tremendous confidence, determination, and a passion for success at everything he does. As I have watched Pat grow as a coach, I see these same qualities in Pat and the players he coaches. Pat is a fun person to be around, committed to his family, and grounded in his faith. Pat Fitzgerald is a winner, and a great choice to lead the Northwestern Football program."
Gregg Brandon, Bowling Green University, head coach
Gregg Brandon was Northwestern's Wide Receivers Coach during Pat's playing days.
"Being a member of the Northwestern family gives him a tremendous advantage in keeping the Wildcats competitive year in and year out. He had a great career there and embodies all of the qualities that Northwestern University stands for. I think it is a great move for them and I wish Pat and his family all the best."
Frank Lenti, Mt. Carmel High School, head coach
"The hiring of Pat Fitzgerald is well deserved. I've had the opportunity to talk with Pat and Adam Cushing (Northwestern tight ends/h-backs coach) recently and hoped this would be the direction Northwestern decided to go. The thing I think people are going to talk about is his age, but 31 is just a number. Pat is the stereotypical up-and-comer. What he accomplished on the field as a player transitioned into becoming a great coach and he did all that at Northwestern. He has talked-the-talk and walked-the-walk at NU and I look forward to what he will accomplish in Evanston."
Rob S. Johnson, teammate and co-captain of 1995 Big Ten Championship team.
"I am excited for Pat, his family and incredibly excited for the future of Northwestern football with Pat at the helm."
Justin Chabot, teammate and co-captain of 1996 Big Ten Championship team, former director of football operations under Coach Walker.
"I am excited that Pat will follow Randy and continue his work ethic and integrity. His experiences both as a player and coach will enable him to build upon the things that Gary Barnett and Randy Walker have accomplished at NU and Pat will be able to take the program even further."
Youngest Division I-A Football Coaches
|Pat Fitzgerald||31||12/2/74|| Northwestern|
|Bret Bielema|| 36||9/28/69|| Wisconsin|
|Ron Prince||36||9/18/69|| Kansas State|
|Mike Gundy|| 39||8/12/67|| Oklahoma State|
|Shane Montgomery||39||3/14/67|| Miami (Ohio)|
|Greg Schiano|| 40||6/1/66||Rutgers|
|Bronco Mendenhall|| 40||2/21/66|| Brigham Young|
|Mike Shula|| 41||6/3/65||Alabama|
|Mark Snyder|| 41||12/30/64||Marshall|
* as of Sept. 1, 2006