Northwestern, Fitz a perfect marriage

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
5:03
PM CT

The head coach free-agency season in college football is shaping up to be a wild one.

The USC job is already open, and the Texas job might not be too far behind.

You're talking about two of the premier coaching jobs in America potentially being open in the same year. Not only that, but imagine the domino effect that could ensue as a result.

Invariably, Pat Fitzgerald's name will come up. It always does when coaching vacancies occur, whether those vacancies are in the Big Ten, the Pac-12 or even the SEC.

Michigan inquired back in 2011. Tennessee did the same last year, and those are just a sampling of the schools who've called, hoping to pry Fitzgerald away from his beloved alma mater.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Jonathan Daniel /Allsport Pat Fitzgerald in 1996, during his days as a Wildcats linebacker.
I realize he's a hot commodity, and I realize that's not going to change.

Look at what he's accomplished at Northwestern, which takes center stage this weekend when No. 4 Ohio State brings its 17-game winning streak to Ryan Field.

I also realize that the lure of USC can be mesmerizing. The same goes for Texas if the Longhorns are indeed looking for a coach come December.

But there's something about Fitzgerald that's different. If there is such a thing anymore in college football as a lifer, I'm going on record and saying Fitzgerald is it.

We've seen Chris Petersen stay the course at Boise State despite repeated efforts to hire him away.

My sense is that Fitzgerald is just as locked in at Northwestern.

It's his school. He grew up in the Chicago area. So did his wife, Stacy. They're deeply invested in that community, and he's in a situation where he doesn't have to play some of the mind-numbing recruiting games with kids that are a way of life at most of the football powerhouses around the country.

There's also something to be said for being at a place that truly gets it in terms of academics versus football and isn't clamoring for a new football coach any time the team doesn't win nine or 10 games.

It's a refreshing marriage -- Fitzgerald and Northwestern -- and I'm betting that it's one that will endure in a coaching world where marriage certificates are increasingly filled out in pencil.

So is one of Fitzgerald's closest confidants, Gary Barnett, who coached Fitzgerald at Northwestern when he was a two-time All-American for the Wildcats and was the face of that 1996 Rose Bowl team.

"Things could always change. But right now, for the next how many years, and I'm guessing the full 10 years of his contract, he's going to be right there at Northwestern," said Barnett, who still talks to Fitzgerald regularly.

"He's going to raise his kids there, and that's where he wants to be. He's always going to have that right to leave, and as I said, things can change. But he's so well-respected, and with the way the administration has treated him, he has too much integrity to make that move."

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Chris Low | email

College Football

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