Why Pat Fitzgerald Was the Only Guy who Deserved B1G Coach of the Year

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At 4:51 p.m. today Northwestern football announced that the most famous #51 in their history had won 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year. Pat Fitzgerald, whose name co-adorns the league’s linebacker of the year award with another #51 from the state of Illinois, Dick Butkus, claims the coaching honor of the first time in his 13 year career.

It’s long overdue, especially when you consider how consistent his teams have been over the years at a.) getting better as the season goes along b.) winning on the road and c.) winning conference games as they are now 15-1 in their last 16 road games.

pat fitzgerald

It seemed bizarre to live in a world where Ron Zook has a Big Ten Coach of the Year award on his trophy shelf, but Pat Fitzgerald does not. After all, the Orland Park native has led his team 10 wins (tying the school record) three times in the past six years.

Big Ten Title Game Preview: go to this link

Unfortunately, his teams do have a tendency to start very slow.

This year’s team began the year 1-3, including an inexplicable and inexcusable home loss to Akron. They also finished winless in non-conference play for the first time since 1992, Gary Barnett’s very first season at Northwestern.

However, Fitzgerald and company rebounded like Charles Barkley in his prime from that rough start, finishing 8-1 in conference play. That mark tied the school record for league wins in a season, and they did mostly with defense.

The Wildcats allowed a mere 18.8 points per game during Conference play while limiting opponents to just 371.1 yards per game, clinching the Big Ten West division title with two full weeks left in the season.

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This weekend Fitz will lead team down to Indianapolis, for the program’s first berth in the Big Ten Championship Game.

They went 5-0 on the road this season setting a program record with eight consecutive road wins dating back to last term. Pat Fitzgerald is the fourth Northwestern man to win Big Ten Coach of the Year, joining Dennis Green in 1982, his former coach Gary Barnett in 1995 and 1996, and his mentor Randy Walker in 2000.

“If it was my name,” Fitzgerald said yesterday when asked about the possibility of winning award, “it would not be about me, it would be a program accomplishment. It starts with the players. None of this happens without their sacrifice and dedication. Secondly it would be our staff.”

“We don’t do anything here individually. That award would go to those guys.”

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Said safety Jared McGee at the Monday press conference: “I could not have asked for a better head coach during my college career.”

When you look at the field, this year’s award could not have gone to anyone else but Pat Fitzgerald. The Cats won the west by such a wide margin that you couldn’t have considered anyone else in the division for the award. In the east, it was a two horse race between the two schools that are almost always leading the pack, Ohio State and Michigan.

However, you can’t give it to Urban Meyer. Imagine the optics of handing the award to a man who was suspended to begin the season, and extremely lucky, given his past actions that his suspension was just a slap on the wrist. Jim Harbaugh had a solid season, and the “revenge tour” rolled along until the last stop, but one must remember why so much hype and hoopla accompanied the khakied one’s hiring.

He was hired, and paid a ton of money, to beat Ohio State, win league titles and compete for national titles.

pat fitzgerald northwestern football

He fell well short on all three fronts. Thus, the former Carl Sandburg high school Eagles linebacker was the only logical choice.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Lineups.com and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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