The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Northwestern Names Fitzgerald New Football Coach

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jul 11, 2006 3:15PM

2006_07_sports_fitzgerald_nu_coach.jpgWith the family, friends and Northwestern campus still in mourning over the loss of football coach Randy Walker, The Wildcats stayed within their "family" in naming their new head coach. On Friday, they named Pat Fitzgerald as their new head coach. Formerly Northwestern's linebackers coach, Fitzgerald had been groomed by Walker to eventually take over the program. However, they both thought that wouldn't come for another half-decade or more.

At 31, Fitzgerald is the youngest coach in Division I college football -- by 5 years. He'll be taking the helm of a program that plays in one of the toughest conferences yet one that still holds its players to tough academic standards. Can Fitzgareld balance those often contradictory expectations? Chicagoist certainly thinks so.

He, himself, is a product of the Northwestern progream. As Northwestern's middle linebacker in the mid-90's, he was twice named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior in 1995, he helped lead his team to the Big Ten title and Northwestern's first Rose Bowl appearance since 1948. Chicagoist remembers actively following the 'Cats that year and even attended that Rose Bowl. All along, whenever we saw Fitzgerald play or speak to the media, we sensed his knowledge of the game, and his ability to teach and motivate those around him and make them better.

So it made perfect sense that when he was passed over by the NFL as a player, he remained in college as an assistant coach. Eventually ending up back at Northwestern in 2001, Walker saw Fitzgerald's potential to become a great coach. NU athletic director Mark Murphy explained, "[Walker had tremendous respect for Pat and said to me, 'There's no question in my mind he's going to be a great head coach someday, and I want him to succeed me.'

There will undoubtedly be some ups and downs as the young coach grows into his new role. But he's the right choice, especially in this time of crisis. He'll carry on the legacy of Walker, while hopefully laying the groundwork for longterm stability for the Wildcats. Even is he's in a little over his head this year, he'll grow into the job. Some think he's ready now. Chicagoist isn't quite that optimistic -- being a head coach in the Big Ten is a tough job -- but we don't doubt that he will be in the not too distant future. The Wolverines, Illini and Hawkeyes had better watch out!