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B1G 2015: A Shameless Retrospective on Northwestern's Coaching

Man, what a difference two years make.

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Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Now that you've enjoyed a little Northwestern cocktail party (not the actual party, but it's not like we're inviting all of you to the actual cocktail party), shall we get down to brass tacks? I enjoyed "writing" the 2013 "coaching piece" for Northwestern so much that I thought I'd do it again!

[Ed note: Seriously. They've been letting me "write" here for that long.]

Here's the catch: Northwestern's coaching staff has not changed one iota since I wrote the coaching piece in 2013. Does that seem like a problem? It probably should, if you've heard about 'Cats football over the last two years. So, shamelessly, because I didn't get to do this piece last year (though I hope it was a nice notch in the ol' MSJ portfolio) and because I am nothing if not lazy, here is an annotated/edited version of my 2013 piece. Strikethroughs and italics represent my edits.


Zero new coaches will prowl the sidelines for the Wildcats this fall as the program suits up perhaps its most-hyped team since 2001. Regardless, let's take a nice lil' look at the Smartest Guys in the Room up in Evanston.

Nothing changed here. Neat, huh?

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald


Photo: Phil Sears, USA Today Sports (link)

Who is this guy?

He's awesome. You might know him as bewitching baked potatoes to hurt Iowa Hawkeyes. We think he's pretty swell, in spite of his White Sox-fandom. We all have character flaws, you guys. Regardless, he's the man at Northwestern. Being a NUMB alum, I got to hear Fitz speak yearly to the band, in addition to at a couple res colleges and school events, and the guy has an infectious personality. He loves Northwestern and embodies the success to which Wildcat student-athletes aspire. He's now 50-39 60-53, the all-time winningest coach at Northwestern (shut UP, you guys), tied for all-time winningest coach in bowl games at Northwestern (I said shut UP) and is signed through 2020. Barring something ridiculous, Fitz is the man 'til he decides he's not anymore.

That's probably still true, though two years of 5-7 with arguably some of the most talented teams ever to walk through the door at Northwestern have shifted a heap-load of criticism onto the broad shoulders of Fitzgerald. Stay tuned!

To his credit, Fitz has done exactly what a coach who entered a Big Ten job as the youngest coach in the NCAA (at the time) should do: surrounded himself with capable coordinators and assistant coaches, avoided coaching turnover, and focused heavily on recruiting and selling the Northwestern experience. His in-game management has been criticized by many for being, among things, too predictabletoo free-wheelingtoo conservativetoo aggressive, and so on, but he's doing the off-field things necessary to put Northwestern in a position to win, being a positive face for the university, and really being a picture of what student-athletes from Northwestern can accomplish for their school.

That whole "union" thing didn't go too well for Fitzgerald. He's weathered the storm, but the "too" modifiers up above (to say nothing of the coordinators, who we'll get to) have generally turned to reflect "too stubborn." Regardless of if it's going for it, not going for it, running power sets with an undersized offensive line--you name it--Fitzgerald stands by what he does, even when what he does has consisted of losing the majority of games the last two years.

Quote worth sharing:

We tell our guys: Act like you've been there before. Well, we haven't been there before. As (linebacker) David Nwabuisi just said, 'We're here now,' and we're here to stay!"

Gator Bowl postgame, Jan 1, 2013 (link)



You bet! You've seen excited Fitz...confused Fitz...but don't forget that Fitz can get up.

Why was this a thing back in 2013, Jesse?


Ohhhh yeah. Fitz loves him some Twitter.

When not touting the highlights of the NU football program, you can see Fitz constantly tweeting about the Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup, other Chicago sports goings-on, congratulating every single Northwestern athletic team on every single accomplishment, and retweeting motivational stuff that ostensibly the person managing his account finds interesting.

I hate the Blackhawks. And the White Sox. And the Cubs. The Bulls I can take or leave. Get bent, Chicago.

[ED NOTE: MNW, props to you for hating the White Sox. Other than that, I could not disagree more: -LPW]

Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall


I considered copying and pasting Jesse's preview from last year, but figured I should bring something semi-pertinent to the party. Look, bro's not going anywhere. [GO BACK AND TIME AND WISH YOU'D NEVER SAID THIS OH MY GOD THE CARNAGE SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL] He's a career OC who left Bowling Green in 2008 to join Northwestern's staff, and he's been the crafter of some pretty cool offenses ever since. His offensive rankings, by year:

Season Rush YPG (rank) Pass YPG (rank) Total YPG (rank) Scoring Off (rank)
2014 136.58 (103) 216.5 (78) 353.1 (107) 23.0 (101)
2013 172.42 (62) 227.2 (71) 399.6 (73) 26.2 (83)
2012 225.54 (19) 169.08 (106) 394.62 (64) 31.69 (42)
2011 166.62 (45) 254.23 (38) 420.85 (34) 28.92 (51)
2010 155.92 (58) 235.15 (48) 391.08 (48) 26.38 (63)
2009 117.54 (95) 286.54 (13) 404.08 (40) 25.92 (71)
2008 141.77 (64) 216.69 (59) 358.46 (61) 24.38 (74)

The improvements jump off the page in the final column: despite regressing last year in YPG, McCall's offenses scored at an alarmingly higher clip in 2012 than any other season. Both first downs and time of possession were down from 2011, but in 2012 Northwestern turned the ball over only 15 times on offense, down from 17 in 2011 and 23 in 2010.

Much of McCall's sustained offensive success, though, appears to stem from an adaptability in his playbook: moving from a loose cannon like CJ Bacher in 2008 to a pocket passer like Mike Kafka in 2009 to a scrambler in Dan Persa('10-'11) to the two-QB system of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian last year, McCall has added new wrinkles every year to play to his lineups' respective strengths.

Additionally, consistency on the offensive line helped McCall develop a fearsome rushing attack in 2012. If the offensive line falters in 2013, look for sack rates to be on the rise and average YPC for Northwestern rushers to be down.

The wrinkles have dried up. Like...holy shit, those numbers are abysmal. The Total YPG metric and scoring have started to stagnate under McCall, who is for some reason abandoning the spread in weird cases to run power sets. I don't get it. I just cry.

Estimated Time to Head Coach:

Never, brah. McCall's a lifetime assistant and Fitz has been very happy with him at Northwestern. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahaha


Nope, and @FakeMickMcCall has been inactive since the Boston College game in 2011. Bummer.



Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz


Hankwitz has been the architect of many an underwhelming Northwestern defense since joining Fitz's squad in 2008 after two years as BERT's second DC in Madison. One of the popular fanbase (I include me here) whipping boys during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, along with defensive backs coach Jerry Brown (a Northwestern lifer spanning 4 decades), Hankwitz's unit rebounded in 2012. Since I guess I've set off a trend with tables with rankings, lookit:

Season Rush YPG (rank) Pass Eff (rank) Total YPG (rank) Scoring Def (rank)
2014 169.92 (72) 116.41 (43) 384.3 (54) 25.2 (46)
2013 167.67 (68) 124.00 (101) 423.4 (89) 27.1 (69)
2012 127.62 (21) 119.87 (33) 378.15 (47) 22.54 (29)
2011 177.31 (84) 139.46 (91) 407.69 (80) 27.69 (66)
2010 185.00 (92) 128.98 (61) 426.15 (97) 29.00 (77)
2009 128.62 (41) 125.78 (51) 350.46 (47) 24.46 (55)
2008 126.38 (34) 111.83 (25) 340.54 (50) 20.15 (27)

Hey everyone, what a shock! Turns out controlling teams on the ground and forcing inefficient (relatively speaking) performances out of passers correlates to better records! All in all, Hankwitz's turnaround in 2012 stemmed from forcing 29 turnovers, up from 20 in 2011 and 22 in 2010.

As I mentioned, another whipping boy (along with Hankwitz) for Northwestern fans has been Jerry Brown, the DB coach. Working with an under-athletic and, in the case of last year, injury-marred defensive backfield, Brown's units' inability to keep teams from rolling up large amounts of yardage on the ground (Northwestern's 3 losses in 2012 come to miiiiind) drew the ire of 'Cats fans all the way through the end of 2012, though a strong Gator Bowl performance put several of those complaints to rest. What Hankwitz and Brown do with marginally improving recruits on defense will largely determine how far the Wildcats go in 2013.

Hey, look! The secondary was bad in 2013, and we did poorly! We shored that up, and things got marginally better on defense in 2014. I'm sorry, Jerry Brown. I love you, and I love Ibraheim Campbell, and I hope you continue making good things in the secondary. Otherwise, I'll amend this to say FIRE JERRY BROWN!!!1!!111!1 next year because this is the internet. Hank, you just keep doin' you, brother.

Estimated Time to Head Coach:

See McCall, Mick. Hankwitz was an interim HC at both Arizona in '03 (7 games) and Colorado in '05 (1 game), but he looks like a comfortable, lifetime assistant. Fitz is noted for his loyalty to assistants, and Hankwitz appears to be no different.


Apparently! His tweets are protected, though, and I don't use the Twitters [still don't!], so peruse them if you can @MikeHankwitz.

Need more Northwestern on Twitter?

Of course you do! Check out NU Wildcats Football for all sorts of updates on accomplishments by Northwestern football players.

What Have We Learned, MNW?

Not much, man. Mediocrity reigned these last two years, and AD Jim Phillips and HC Pat Fitzgerald made no coaching changes after the disastrous 2014 campaign (we can stop using the Notre Dame win to qualify it as a success. That was the shiny kernel of corn in the steaming dump that was 2014.), implying that either (1) something good is brewing among the coaches for 2015, or (2) dammit.

I'll ascend my soapbox, briefly:

Coaching was, from 2006 to 2012, something that set Northwestern apart: a young, fresh-faced, energetic coach who also happened to be an alumnus of the university took the program to heights it had not reached (ending the season with a bowl win) since 1949. The program and fanbase, by and large, have handed Pat Fitzgerald the keys to the Northwestern football program, and in 2013 and 2014 suffered the consequences of an often-pigheaded coach refusing to adjust his style, playcalling, or coaching amid losing streaks.

The luster has worn off the Fitzgerald regime. Excuses about the press, the union, and anything else aren't flying in Chicagoland like they used to. Pat Fitzgerald, especially with his assistants, has been given more rope than most coaches get in a tenure at a program. We thought the end of 2013 was "the year" in which a few assistants would finally be hanged. We were certain at the end of 2014 that a few assistants would finally meet its business end. Now it's 2015, and the length of rope has to end somewhere. It's starting to resemble a noose. That can change, but it needs to change now.

B1G 2015: Northwestern Week

Better Know An OTE "Writer" | LPWMNW

MONDAY | Cocktail Party Preview

TUESDAY | Personnel Files (you are here)

WEDNESDAY | Northwestern Potluck

THURSDAY | Wildcard

FRIDAY | Hate or Get Real