On Monday, July 10th, Northwestern University President Michael Schill fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald over numerous reports of hazing within the Wildcat football program. On Thursday, he fired heads baseball coach Jim Foster for bullying and abusive behavior. One has to wonder, will the firings stop there?
The firing of Fitzgerald.
In an open letter to the University community, Schill wrote, “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”
Pat Fitzgerald was an All-American Linebacker and a key player on the 1995 Wildcat team that went 10-1 and a perfect 8-0 in conference to win the Big Ten and then represent the BIG Ten in the 1996 Rose Bowl as the #3 team in the nation. They lost in the Rose Bowl to the #17 USC Trojans 41-32.
Besides being an All-American, Fitzgerald won both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski trophy for best defensive player. He was named the BIG Ten defensive player of the Year.
Fitzgerald started his coaching career with grad assistant jobs at Maryland in 1998 and at Colorado in 1999. In 2000 he was the linebacker/special teams coach for Idaho. He joined the Northwestern staff in 2001 as the defensive backs coach, then linebacker coach from 2002-2005, also doubling as recruiting coordinator in 2004 & 2005. Then was promoted to head coach after Randy Walker passed away in 2006.
Fitzgerald compiled a 110-101 record at Northwestern with two BIG Ten West titles in 2018 and 2020. He had a 5-5 Bowl record and had the Wildcats ranked 5 times in the top 25. With the highest being 10th in both the Coaches Poll and the AP Poll in 2020. The Wildcats topped that season off with Northwestern’s last bowl win in the Citrus Bowl, beating Auburn 35-19.
At the time of the announcement, Fitzgerald was serving a two-week suspension that was issued on July 7th.
The next day the Daily Northwestern put out a story that a former NU football player alleged that the hazing involved coerced sexual acts.
On the same day as this, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg shared a statement by the ENTIRE team showing support for coach Fitzgerald. The statement said that the allegations were exaggerated and contained many falsehoods. Former players chimed in with support for Fitzgerald.
July 8th was also the day that Schill issued a statement saying that they were reevaluating coach Fitzgerald’s suspension and that further disciplinary actions could be taken.
On July 9th Adam Rittenberg wrote an article quoting the source of the Daily Northwestern article. He also reported on the existence of a screenshot of a whiteboard titled SHREK’S LIST with several items listed, including ones titled “Naked Slingshot” and “Naked Bear crawl.” More former players came forward the next day, claiming the existence of a ritual known as the “Carwash.”
On the 10th, The Daily Northwestern printed the story of three former players claiming a racist environment existed.
Shortly after the article appeared, Schill announced that Fitzgerald had been fired.
Fitzgerald reportedly addressed the team and then released a statement that he would protect himself and has since hired an attorney.
After the meeting, several players took to social media, calling out President Michael Schill and AD Derrick Gragg for being “cowards” and not attending the meeting.
The fact that Fitzgerald was put on suspension after the report on the investigation came out. But was fired after the school newspaper got involved. Was Schill willing to overlook some details until the paper talked to the whistleblower?
On Thursday, NU named defensive coordinator David Braun who was hired in January, to serve as interim coach. Braun played at Winona State as a defensive lineman. He coached a Winona state as a grad assistant in 2008 & 200. In 2010 he was the defensive coordinator and linebacker coach at Culver-Stockton. Then went back to Winona State from 2011-2014 as Co-defensive coordinator and linebacker coach. He spent 2 years at UC Davis as a defensive line coach. In 2017 he went to Northern Iowa as the run game coordinator and defensive line coach.
The next year he was the special teams coach and outside linebacker coach. In 2019 -2022 he served as the defensive coordinator and safeties coach before being hired this past year as the defensive coordinator for Northwestern.
BUT WAIT, There’s more!
It was announced on Tuesday, July 11th, that first-year head baseball coach Jim Foster had been under investigation for allegations of bullying. In a report by the Chicago Tribune, among the allegations was an inappropriate comment made to a female staff member. And talking “negatively” about certain staff members to other staff members. 670 the Score reported that Foster made racially insensitive comments and that he rushed players back too quickly from injury, which in some cases made the injuries worse. He was fired on Thursday.
Foster had been under investigation before the season started by the University’s Human Resources Department. The investigation uncovered evidence that Foster “engaged in bullying and abusive behavior.” According to a report obtained by the Chicago Tribune, there was a recommendation for the athletic department to “take remedial action.” Which they never did, and Foster was allowed to coach the season.
Foster was a catcher at Providence from 1990-1993. He was an assistant coach at Brown from 2004-2005, then got the head coach job at Rhode Island, compiling a 2698-230-3 record in 9 seasons. he won 2 Atlantic 10 titles(2006 & 2013). After a 1 year stint with Boston College as the associate head coach, he landed the head job at Army, where in 6 seasons(2017-2022), he was 162-140 capturing 3 patriot league titles and appearing in 4 NCAA regionals.
In this season, his only year at Northwestern, the Wildcats went 23-27.
Former Chicago White Sox player Brian Anderson is now the interim Head coach. Anderson joined the staff in the spring as an assistant. Anderson, before playing for the White Sox, was a former All-American and All-Pac10 player for the University of Arizona.
Prior to joining Northwestern, Anderson was the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Pima Community College.
On Thursday, Athletic Director Derrick Gragg had this to say.
"Nothing will ever be more important to Northwestern than providing its students a place that allows them to develop in the classroom, in the community, and in competition at the absolute highest level, and building a culture which allows our staff to thrive," said Gragg. "This has been an ongoing situation, and many factors were considered before reaching this resolution. As the Director of Athletics, I take ownership of our head coaching hires, and we will share our next steps as they unfold."
So is there a hazing issue? It would appear so. How severe is it? That is the $64,000 question. It would seem very severe given not one but TWO head coaches were fired within days of each other. What light does this shine on the university and its athletic programs? What about the assistant coaches, all of whom have been retained? How many of them had knowledge of the hazing gone on? But with the season less than two months away, it would be almost impossible for the University to hire completely new staff and be ready for the season opener on Sept 3rd.
With two coaches fired in one week and one who was being investigated before the season even started, one must wonder if Athletic Director Gragg or President Schill might be feeling a little heat from Booster and alumni alike.
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