I’ve been a season ticket holder since 2001, and highly unusual for college football, Northwestern has had only 2 coaches in that time. Pat Fitzgerald took over in 2006 after the untimely death of Randy Walker, and hasn’t changed his coaching roster much.
After the 2007 season former defensive coordinator Greg "Swiss Cheese" Colby was fired, and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee left to become the quarterback coach at the University of Arkansas. Pat Fitzgerald hired outstanding former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz (thanks Bert!) and former Bowling Green offensive coordinator Mick McCall.
The performance of Northwestern’s offense and defense has changed drastically since that winter day in 2008, and I’ve come to the realization it’s not so much the coaches but the personnel. I used to be highly critical (to the point of wanting him fired) of longtime (since the Gary Barnett era!) defensive backs coach Jerry Brown back in the day in the old Sippin On Purple comment section, but recently his charges have been playing a lot better. A guy who’s coached stalwart defensive backs like Brendan Smith, Hudhaifa Ismaeli, Matthew Harris and Nick VanHoose is probably a better teacher than fans like me give him credit for.
Also, Mike Hankwitz has been doing an excellent job lately, and he completely earns the accolades and fan appreciation:
Minnesota fans are well aware of what he can do, amirite?
On the offensive side of the ball, Mick McCall has coached some excellent players, and he has some good ones at his disposal now. Justin Jackson THE BALLCARRIER is the rock of the team, and he has highly touted QBs Matt Alviti and Clayton Thorson at his disposal.
That being said, Northwestern fans were incredulous he wasn’t fired after last season. IMHO just feeding the ball to Justin Jackson while satisfying could backfire if everyone keys down on him given that Clayton Thorson was shaky throwing the ball and the receivers couldn’t catch, let alone erratic punting from Hunter Niswander.
Heck, it’s not just fans, it’s also former players like InsideNU writer Nate Williams. Here’s his thoughts after the Iowa game
Everyone who takes issue with the offense is wondering why we run on first down, and asks why we "don't pass on first instead" and get "more creative." That's not sound judgement, thinking, or critiquing. We do not need "creativity." We need to revamp our entire strategy. There is a script the offense has for at least one or two drives per game. When the script goes wrong, it's over. Other than the said scripted drive, there's no setup game, no "gotcha" moments. There is no "okay, we ran this against this look and saw them over commit, so let's run something else, take advantage of that and rip a big one". Its simply "what play works and what play does not against said look," and run what is perceived to work. Maybe I am wrong, there's certainly a lot that goes on unbeknownst to anyone outside of those walls, but from my experience, I do not get that feeling. Iowa gave us a couple "gotcha" plays, and the defense suffered twice from it.
If McCall doesn’t call better plays, it could very well be a long season in Evanston. For what it’s worth, Thorson and the wide receivers need to help out as well.