AL HAMNIK: Fitzgerald, NU the perfect marriage

2010-02-23T00:00:00Z AL HAMNIK: Fitzgerald, NU the perfect marriageBy Al Hamnik - Times Columnist
February 23, 2010 12:00 am  • 

SCHERERVILLE | There are few college football coaches today whom you can trust to have the best interests of your son in mind other than his 40-yard dash time or spot on the depth chart.

In a time when commitment to school and program is just part of the recruiting speech and Division I coaches will go anywhere you show them the money, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is too good to be true.

Fitzgerald starred at NU, was an assistant there under Randy Walker, and is considered among the brightest college football minds in the country. Sooner or later, he'll move on, you figure.

His name was mentioned when Charlie Weis got canned at Notre Dame. There was even speculation Fitzgerald might end up on some NFL staff. After countless seasons of football futility, NU had found the answer, so forgive its fans and alumni for being a bit nervous.

The man who bleeds purple and white, if you believe him and I do, is in Evanston for the long run.

He told me that before appearing as guest speaker at Monday's Sportsmanship Dinner at sold-out Villa Cesare.

"We talk about loyalty. We talk about commitment. There's contracts for a reason and I learned from one of the best -- Randy Walker. They said he was as loyal as the day was long. That's one heckuva statement to be made about any person," said Fitzgerald, who has six years remaining on his seven-year deal.

"It's a people business. It's a relationship business and it's about the kids. I've run my race and had one heckuva time running that race with my teammates. When I now look at the opportunities I have at Northwestern, there's not a better situation that fits me. Hopefully, the university feels the same way."

Think Derrick Rose with the Bulls, New Orleans with its Saints, Vancouver with real snow.

Fitzgerald is 27-23 overall in his four seasons as NU head coach and that merits a standing ovation of sorts because from 1971 until 2009, the program had only eight winning seasons.

During one wretched stretch from 1976 through 1981, NU lost 62 of its 65 games.

"The grass isn't always greener and I've had the privilege of being at the University of Maryland, Colorado and Idaho as an assistant coach and graduate assistant and I'm sold on Northwestern," Fitzgerald said. "We're one of 27 programs that did not have a coaching change this offseason out of 120 programs. I'm proud of that."

Fitzgerald's enthusiasm and unwavering set of core values makes him Northwestern's biggest selling point and all he asks in return is players who are equally committed and loyal.

"The last I saw, as college coaches, we're being compensated better than we ever had," said the father of three boys, the youngest being 1 year. And if all three attended Northwestern with Dad still at the helm, how cool would that be.

"Maybe that's surreal. Maybe that's pie in the sky," Fitzgerald said. "But there's a guy in our league (Joe Paterno) that's been doing it for a long time at one school and he's been pretty darn successful. To me, that's a role model, a mentor, somebody I aspire to be like."

Fitzgerald should be JoePa's role model, actually, having graduated every player at NU while averaging 50 players each quarter with a GPA of over 3.0.

And they play a damn good game of football. Nice fit, indeed.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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