When Northwestern football opens their new stadium in a couple years, they should erect a statue of Pat Fitzgerald. You can believe that take, and also still think that the time might be coming soon for Northwestern University to replace Fitzgerald.
Yes, both things can be true. You can recognize all that Fitz, 47, has done for the Northwestern football program, as its all-time leader in victories and bowl game victories, and also realize that he’s lost a lot of the base already.
A few years ago, it would have seemed unthinkable- the Northwestern football fan base wanting Fitz out, but here we are, with the program back at the level of Dark Ages Northwestern athletics. Currently 1-14 in their last 15 games, it’s by far the worst stretch, of any program in a power five conference.
. Currently 1-8 in 2022, 1-5 in the league, they’ll be massive underdogs in their final three contests.
Indeed this takes us back to NU football BC times, otherwise known as 1950-1994. By no means are we advocating Athletic Director Derrick Gragg fire Pat Fitzgerald (it’s nowhere near time for that yet), but we do think that Fitz needs to move on from both coordinators.
Jim O’Neil has been nothing short of a disaster hire, and if you’re wondering where and when specifically, that Pat Fitzgerald lost the base, it was basically when O’Neil was retained.
O’Neil’s NFL CV isn’t really all that impressive, and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to any sort of genuine belief he get things turned around.
It is not Fitz’s style to sack someone midseason, and honestly that stance is kind of admirable.
However, when Northwestern gave up 33 points and 400 yards to Iowa, the worst offense in the entire nation on Halloween weekend, it was certainly grounds for immediate dismissal.
Iowa QB Spencer Petras had a career day against the NU defense, so did Graham Mertz. Ditto for Maryland’s backup quarterback. Sense a pattern here? O’Neil should be sacked once the season ends, or least one has to hope he is, just for the sake of the concept of meritocracy alone.
Don’t be so sure though, as Pat Fitzgerald notoriously gave former offensive coordinator Mick McCall at least one, but many would argue two or three, more seasons after it was abundantly clear it was time for change. When it comes to Mike Bajakian, the answer isn’t as clear-cut.
Yes, the offense was decent in 2020, but it wasn’t phenomenal. It was more middle-of-the-pack statistically. You also have to take everything that happened during that quasi-season with a grain of salt. It’s sort of like looking at home run numbers in baseball from the mid 1990s to the late 2000s.
Yes, it all happened, but you had a lot of weird, quirky results that hinged on who was cleared and who wasn’t cleared, due to covid protocols. It is worth noting, during that 7-2 (6-1 in the league) season that NU gave Ohio State a very good fight in the Big Ten Title game.
Back to Bajakian, it’s important to stress here that no quarterbacks have developed, at all, under him. And that’s a red flag when you consider the recruiting rankings and profiles of some of the guys he’s gotten to work with.
Pat Fitzgerald has earned the benefit of the doubt, but if he doesn’t replace both coordinators, and make some real wholesale changes to his staff this offseason, well, then what are we even doing, Northwestern Football program?
What are the standards then?
Just last year, Fitzgerald was inked to a whopping 10-year extension, keeping him in place until 2030. Obviously, this gives him a lot of job security, so to actually talk about him potentially getting fired is kind of a pointless exercise.
His salary and buyout figures were not released to the public as NU is a private school.
The real conversation to have, should they continue being this bad- when does his seat actually start warming up?
He may have lost the base already, to some extent, but that doesn’t mean his bosses will shell out the big bucks in order to move on from him.
Pat Fitzgerald brought Northwestern football to a new standard of consistent respectability and competitiveness (obviously, they have fallen way below that level right now) and because of that he now has a contract that means he won’t be going anywhere for awhile.
Remember that, should the very lean times continue.
Paul M. Banks is the Owner/Manager of The Sports Bank and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”Follow paulmbanks