Thursday, August 7, 2008
Fitzgerald discusses expectations, team unity
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed several topics in his news conference with reporters at media day this afternoon.
Here's a sampling:
- Like many college teams, Northwestern is adopting an NFL-style injury report this season. Fitzgerald announced that wide receiver Kevin Frymire, safety Scott Lilja and defensive tackle Niko Mafuli all will miss the season opener with injuries. Linebacker Chris Jeske and running back Scott Concannon are doubtful for the game, and wideout Lee Coleman is probable.
- As the star of Northwestern's Rose Bowl team in 1995, Fitzgerald has made no secret about his desire to return to Pasadena. But when asked to name a team goal for the coming season, Fitzgerald listed a bowl victory. After hearing so much Rose Bowl rhetoric from the coach, I was a little surprised by this.
Was he scaling back his expectations or simply being realistic at a program that hasn't won a bowl game since 1949 [Rose]?
"We do these preseason rankings, what do those mean?" he said. "No one's played a game yet. So that's out of our control. You get to six wins and you don't go to a bowl game even though you're bowl eligible, it's out of your control. So we need to take care of what's in our control. All I know is the bowl tie-ins in the Big Ten are awesome. To win a bowl game, that's something I didn't accomplish when I was here. ... That's a great expectation and hopefully we can do the right things and give ourselves an opportunity. Last year, it only took nine wins to go to the Rose Bowl."
- Fitzgerald didn't go into great detail, but reading between the lines, it seems as though building unity between players and coaches was a problem at times last year. The Wildcats made communication and camaraderie focal points throughout the offseason.
"We all looked back and reflected back on 2007, there was a reason why we stayed home," he said. "We've had great lines of communication open up between our players and our staff. We've got solid trust built now."
- Fitzgerald expects the new timing rules in college football to have a significant impact this fall, particularly late in games. But the effects should be minimal at Northwestern, which will operate from the no-huddle on offense.
"We've got the ability to snap it fast," he said. "The rules are what they are. Two out of the last three years, we've changed the timing rules. I'm not a big fan of it. Our fans want to see our players play."
- This has been said before at Northwestern, but Fitzgerald expects to use the superbacks more this fall. He praised the speed and size of Dunsmore and Rooks and took a friendly jab at junior Mark Woodsum.
"I make fun of him, he's one of the only guys on the team with a neck roll," Fitzgerald said. "He's my kind of guy. Neck rolls are gone in college football now."
- Northwestern had 96 percent of its players pass the conditioning test at the start of practice, the highest number in recent years.