Recruiting Philosophies: How Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald finds, replenishes his Talent


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Some college football coaches recruit according to a primary philosophy. They stress one ideal above the others. It can be recruiting to fill positions of need, recruiting specific players that meet the profile of your system, or it could be recruiting players based on scout’s rankings, the star system beside their name. I asked Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald at NU Media Day about what he emphasizes; it certainly isn’t the third one.

“That’s a great question. I have no idea what a star means, I was a negative-star-rated player. No disrespect to those who rate young men, they don’t work for us, they don’t rate for us. What’s important in our program will ever have a correlation to a start program,” he said.

By Paul M. Banks

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“I think hits on a website have more to do with the star rating than anything. It’s just amazing how certain schools have certain star-rated players every year. We use a lot of scouting services as references to start and we have a very specific plan of how we go about recruiting student-athletes. I’m not sharing that. It’s the hallmark of our evaluation and we take a lot of pride in that evaluation, finding the right fit not only athletically but culturally for our locker room, that person who’s humble and fits our values, wants to compete and loves football. I think we have a good plan and our coaches stick to it, it’s got nothing to do with stars.”

Fitzgerald’s recruiting classes are never ranked anywhere the top of the Big Ten, yet his teams have recently been finishing near the top of the conference. And they play better on the road in conference games than most Big Ten teams, and get better as the year rolls on, posting their best records in November. After the press conference, I followed up by asking Fitz about how to better correlate ratings and performance.

“If I were to create a perfect site, I would go and re-rank players after two years, after three years, and after four years, don’t worry about them after the freshman year. There’s correlation between what they do in high school, but it’s a whole ‘nother level, so that transition from high school to their sophomore year, their redshirt freshman year whatever it may be is a huge indicator of where their career is going to go,” he responded.

Obviously character is key, and intangible that’s important everywhere, especially so at Northwestern.

“It’s hard to rate, but I think you can ask the right questions to get the answers you need, good, bad or indifferent. That is part of our process that I won’t share a whole lot, but we go overboard, we’ll be a day late, a month late, six months late in offering a young man if we’re not sure about his character, and need to evaluate his character a little bit more,” he said during our exclusive chat.

And in the NFL, character matters more than ever, as the Commish Roger Goodell attempts to legislate morality, NFL franchises have to do their due diligence about who they invest in on draft day.

“It’s the number one question I get asked, how is the young man off-the-field? And then they go from there based on my responses. It really hasn’t changed that much, but you can really see a difference by team,” he said.

And no matter what the method, back to back bowl games (just the second time in school history) have definitely had a positive impact on NU’s recruiting.

“Well we already have 13 young men verbally committed to play for us, that’s an all-time high for us at this time of the year. We have 13 young men and I’ve never even set foot in their house yet. Recruiting has really accelerated. A number of the young men we have verbally committed right now stepped foot on our campus last year for either camp, at our games, at our bowl practices, so the process is really accelerated. I remember Coach (Gary) Barnett didn’t offer me a scholarship until I sat in his office on my official visit (in December), so a lot has changed. But there’s no question success breeds recruiting success. We’re close to where we want to be but we’re not there yet.”

Written by Paul M. Banks, president and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest-focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

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