Sometimes, it’s hard to work up a lot of hate for your conference rivals when your own Alma Mater puts out a football program that doesn’t give you a leg to stand on. Fortunately, there’s Big Ten Media Days. In its aftermath, I saw a thesis statement:
the only thing keeping Pat Fitzgerald from being seen as one of the great villains of college football is two dozen well-placed Medill grads and you'll never convince me otherwise— Steve (@IlliniToffee) July 22, 2019
You know, I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. The media helps, sure, but it also helps that Northwestern hasn’t actually broken through the glass ceiling to the extent that they should be taken seriously because they’re no longer adorable. Nevertheless, you, the neutral fan (since there aren’t Northwestern fans and Illini fans remain in hibernation), must admit to yourself that you’d hate Pat Fitzgerald if he coached anywhere of consequence.
As the tide of public support turns in favor of college football players and away from the NCAA, most coaches have kept their mouths shut. Others, perhaps in an attempt to win favor with the baby boomers, talked about how nothing should ever change because everything used to be perfect. Only one man, however, took action to prevent the first step towards meaningful change: Pat Fitzgerald, Union Buster, the highest-paid employee of Northwestern University, stood in the doorway like George Wallace to prevent forward progress. Noted opponent of forward progress Mick McCall was quite pleased. Did anyone ever figure out what “team rule” Venric Mark broke that led to his departure? Until I hear otherwise, I will assume it was “failure to salute the Bossman.”
This is far from the only time Fitz has demonstrated the regressive mindset of an old man raging against the dying of the light. Look no further than this year’s B1G Media Days, when he blamed the kids these days for being on their cellphone for declining attendance at football games. Hey Pat, if you want your fans to come to the games, try beating Akron in September. Fans of other teams don’t seem to have a problem getting to Ryan Field.
Of course, that article is from one of the well-placed Medill graduates referenced in the thesis, and it’s none other than Tedward Greenstein translating Fitzgerald’s words to be more palatable to the public. Fitz needs people to provide these services when he starts railing against the RPO and communism like he did last year. Naturally, he hates communism because he’s anti-labor.
The media sycophants do a great job of giving cover to Fitzgerald and painting him as just a quirky, out-of-touch old man (or a real THROWBACK coach!) whose heart is in the right place. At 44, he’s America’s youngest baby boomer. “Throwback” is a good synonym for “dinosaur” or “relic.”
Of COURSE players came to his defense after Kain Colter criticized “Bossman” Fitzgerald. Tim Beckman’s players did the same thing after Simon Cvijanovic dared to criticize him. All evidence suggests Fitzgerald is every bit as tyrannical as the Nicktator down in Tuscaloosa, but nobody ever bothers to take him to task for it.
And that’s just the thing: nobody’s shy about criticizing Nick Saban because Saban is the head of a program that wins championships, is a fixture in the top 25 and in general is to be taken seriously. Hell, Saban was also criticized for killing fun offenses by bleeding the clock with 50 handoffs a game. Who else does that? Pat Fitzgerald.
He escapes criticism because, well, everyone’s just happy Northwestern can win some games now, and for all his faults, Pat Fitzgerald took Northwestern out of the dark ages when they couldn’t win to a program that makes bowls more often than not. For Northwestern, considering where they were before he was the head coach, that’s as good as it ever gets, right?
Here’s Northwestern’s winning percentage since 1975. The line of demarcation in yellow is the inflection point where Northwestern pivoted from being the world’s saddest sack of shit to being a somewhat stable Big Ten program. Surely that’s where Pat Fitzgerald started coaching, right?
Nope. That’s Gary Barnett. The other line is when Fitzgerald’s tenure as head coach began. It feels like crediting a president for trends that began under his predecessor when viewed with objective data, doesn’t it?
Fitzgerald’s name is on the trophy given to the top linebacker in the Big Ten, sharing equal billing with Dick Butkus only because the Big Ten needed to have equal representation for Northwestern. If Fitzgerald were really committed to anti-communist dogma, he’d have demanded his name be removed. He never won the Butkus Award; in 1995, that went to Kevin Hardy of Illinois. He was instead awarded Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year because the voters rightfully thought this would be their only chance to ever award a Northwestern player.
All in all, though, it’s high time you, the fans and media, started applying the same standards to Pat Fitzgerald that you apply to coaches at relevant football schools. You’re all fools for allowing him to hide behind Northwestern’s historic incompetence that predates his tenure by over a decade. The Wildcats sucking in 1980 should not render the coach in 2019 immune from criticism, and if you can look past your impression of Northwestern as a nonthreatening entity, you’ll not only see that he sucks, but that we should heed his words and “embrace the suck.”