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Coach: One man’s opinion on Northwestern’s football firing

There are plenty of Northwestern alums and fans living in our area, many who are deeply connected to the Wildcat program and have been for many years.

Almost all of them, and even those not as intimately connected, have an opinion on the recent unfortunate controversy regarding the football program that ended with longtime coach (and star player himself) Pat Fitzgerald being let go by University President Michael Schill.

The following is just one man’s opinion — mine.

Let me first state that I am not a Northwestern alum. Not by choice, I might add. That rejection letter from five decades ago has long since been discarded in the still-growing basket of dreams unfulfilled.

But despite that unkind disappointment at the age of 17, I remained a fan. I have gone to their games ever since I was a kid, and I grew up rooting for the Wildcat sports teams. The purple blood has been flowing in my circulatory system for a very long time. The love is strong enough that even as a graduate of University of Illinois, I have to admit when the Cats play the Orange and Blue? Whatever my degree might say, my heart continues to say, “Go Cats.”

Secondly, let me be clear that my tolerance for hazing, which is at the heart of the recent controversy, is pretty much like everyone else’s at this point. Zero. No excuse. Hazing is outdated, unnecessary and often downright cruel.

It serves absolutely no positive purpose, and to hear it had been going on in the Northwestern football program — to any degree — is discouraging without question.



So, with that as a precedent, here are my thoughts on what transpired the last couple weeks, which sadly and unfortunately made Northwestern a national news story in the worst way.

First and most important, Coach Fitzgerald should never have been fired. A huge overreaction, in my opinion, from a still-new university president undoubtedly influenced by the runaway train that is social media.

My main reason for this opinion is knowing the history of Pat Fitzgerald, the type of man he is, and his unwavering allegiance to Northwestern University.

Keep in mind President Schill has been on the Evanston campus less than a year. He came from Oregon, has some roots at the University of Chicago, some in New York and Pennsylvania as well. But none from Northwestern. No history there at all.



So my question then would be, how aware was President Schill of the history.

Did the new president know that Coach Fitz was once a player, team captain and leader of a rare Rose Bowl-bound Northwestern team? Did the new university president know that Fitzgerald came back to coach at the school he loved so much and served loyally as an assistant coach under Randy Walker?

Did the new university president know that when Walker suddenly and tragically passed away, the school search committee named Fitzgerald to take the job, making him the youngest head coach in all of college football — and they did so with the support and encouragement of other and older assistant coaches in the program at the time? The young assistant garnering that much respect in a short period of time.

Was the new university president informed of the history of Northwestern football? The many years of losing and last-place finishes before Walker and then Fitzgerald changed all that? Does he know the success the program has had under Coach Fitz? Is he aware of the division and conference championships won, and trips to bowl games in recent years — many of which turned into big season-ending victories?

Was the new university president aware of how respected Pat Fitzgerald is in the coaching community? How universally well-liked and well-thought-of he is by his fellow D-1 coaches? Does President Schill know of the incredible and loyal respect Fitzgerald has from his former players, who often, and even recently, speak glowingly of the type of person and type of man Pat Fitzgerald is?

Finally, is the university president aware of the almost unheard-of loyalty Pat Fitzgerald has shown the school? Is he aware of the fact that over the years Fitz has turned down multiple opportunities to go to bigger schools, and even the NFL, and certainly to make much more money, instead staying in Evanston with the school he loves so much?

It is often cliché to say that a coach “bleeds” the color of the school. But few could deny that there are many coaches anywhere in the country that truly bleed the color of the school they coach for more than Fitzgerald.

You cut Fitz open, and the stains on the floor would be purple, not red.

For all those reasons, and maybe a few more, I absolutely think Northwestern way overreacted, and never should have fired their head coach. His long and quality history demanded he deserved much better treatment than he received.

Bottom line, and remember this column is titled “One Man’s Opinion,” Pat Fitzgerald earned, over his long years of dedicated service to Northwestern and the high character and morals which he consistently displayed, a fairer end game.

To let him go the way they did? Unceremoniously and without proper communication? In such a short period of time under the social media storm (and I haven’t even addressed the rapid change of heart from a two-week suspension to sudden firing) was just downright wrong.

He deserved and earned better.

I stand behind Coach Fitz. Go Cats.

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email



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