A spirited debate ensued the last time Law Buckeye and I broached this touchy subject. Law Buckeye was rattling off schools that would want Fitzy, while I reacted in mock horror at the thought of this true-purple Northwestern man coaching anywhere else. But alas, in the dynamic and volatile world of college football, Fitzgerald could be recruiting for Boston College in just a few years. So let's take a look at the valid questions and facts regarding the Big Ten's hottest young coach.
What do the facts tell us?
Fitzgerald has succeeded on a number of levels during his tenure in Evanston. He's created a style that molds to his style of recruits and allows for program continuity. Wildcat recruits know exactly what they are facing (strong academic focus, probability of redshirt) and know that Fitz will prepare them adequately for all challenges.
Not only that, Fitzgerald's personal plaudits and intense coaching style set a tone that his players seem to follow. When Fitzgerald instructs you to hit someone or pay attention in film study, I would find it a bit easier to follow his directions knowing he's been through the same gauntlet as you're facing. It's the equivalent of those legendary stories about Coach X in the 30's/40's/50's who would jump into drills to demonstrate proper form. Look no further then last years near-upset of a preseason Top 10 Missouri squad. The outmatched and injured Wildcats smacked the Tigers in the face and kept coming, finally losing in overtime. The squad was a picture of Fitzgerald - not the most athletic, yet fierce and disciplined with a "never say die" attitude.
I also can't remember reading any comments insinuating discontent or a want to move elsewhere. After excelling while playing and coaching at Northwestern; why mess with a good thing? After receiving an extension, Fitzgerald mentioned that he hoped to coach at NW for many years to come.
But Northwestern faces long odds on ever becoming an 11-1 BCS team. Until this years recruiting class, the last time a 4 star athlete came to Evanston was 2002. Having great recruits is not a stone cold predictor for winning titles, but Northwestern's continuous inability to pull big-time players could be a factor if Fitzgerald is aggressively courted by other schools.
Will other schools pursue Fitzgerald?
Of course. Youth and vigor, with a fine tuned sense of personal relations, will make you a highly sought after college coach. I could imagine a decent academic school with good football tradition making a pitch for Fitz, something like a Boston College, California, or UCLA. If NW can go 9-3 (5-3) this year and end up in a New Years Day Bowl, Fitzgerald's stock will rise and force big time schools to take a look at him. And with those larger schools comes the possibility of multi-million dollar contracts.
Of course other schools will figure the hype and presumed success comes from easy scheduling and medium expectations. Still others will be turned off by the fact that Fitz seems like "a Northwestern man," instead of just another head coach looking for a bigger, better position.
What is the most likely outcome?
Again, no signs point to Fitzy heading to greener (get it?) pastures. But since I am not ingrained in the Northwestern community like fellow writer Lake The Posts, I figured I would post his enlightening and extensive thoughts on Fitzgerald's prospects of staying in Evanston.
As Northwestern fans we've learned never to say never (see: 1995), however the consensus among those that are part of the LTP community is that Fitz will not leave anytime soon. Personally I don't see him ever leaving. Yes, money talks however I believe if Fitz takes NU to the next level and beyond that the administration will continue to elevate the pay.
The most common theory you see in print and among fans is the POTENTIAL - I use the all caps to caveat that there is a long way to go before it becomes a reality - for a Joe Paterno-like run. The guy truly bleeds purple for his alma mater. He's become ingrained in the DNA of the university. There is a changing of the guard at president which is a continued positive from Henry Bienen. The AD Jim Phillips is a huge supporter so he's got the administrative support and now a new contract. The only scenario I can see where he is no longer a coach here is one in which he becomes a victim of his own success. That is, he puts together a string of 5, 7, 10+ years of consecutive winning records and then hits a lull.
I don't think any of us can even fathom a situation where he gets fired for performance. As for where he would go for the truckloads of cash - well, I frankly don't know. He has one last hurdle/frustration to conquer and that is attendance. I know it frustrates him as it does all of us. The concept of another academic school stealing him away for big cash can't be enticing to him and the concept of coaching at a Florida, Texas, Alabama or any other BCS major power just seems like a misfit. There were loud whispers of That Team From South Bend making overtures and many speculate this was a primary reason behind the contract extension/renewal. We never say never, but most of us believe he is here for the long haul.