Northwestern finalizes Fitzgerald contract

It took a while, but Northwestern has finalized a new contract for coach Pat Fitzgerald.

FitzgeraldFitzgeraldThe school will make an official announcement Tuesday morning about the deal, which is designed to lock up Fitzgerald for the foreseeable future. Although salary figures won't be disclosed, the contract contains "a significant number of years" and also took into account assistant coach's salaries, which has been an issue for some time given the high cost of living in the Evanston area.

Fitzgerald, who is 34-29 in five seasons at Northwestern, received a seven-year contract extension in June 2009 that runs through the 2015 season. This deal will stretch a lot longer, I've been told.

Northwestern began working on Fitzgerald's contract in January after Michigan expressed interest in the coach for its vacancy. The 36-year-old Fitzgerald already has been mentioned for several openings and is believed to be on Penn State's radar when it looks for Joe Paterno's successor.

While Fitzgerald not only is extremely loyal to his alma mater but much less likely to bolt than most media folks believe, the new contract is another step toward keeping him in Evanston for the rest of his career. The effort to retain assistant coaches is important. I remember talking to current Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who spent time as Northwestern's offensive coordinator before leaving for Oklahoma, about how Northwestern should honor late coach Randy Walker by increasing assistants' salaries so fewer of them would bolt.

There's also an ongoing facilities master plan that likely will result in upgrades for Ryan Field and Northwestern's football headquarters. Although Northwestern is enjoying a historic period of success on the field, it lags behind most of its Big Ten brethren in facilities.

Fitzgerald has guided Northwestern to three consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in team history. While he still must prove he can lead the Wildcats to championships, he adds tremendous value to the program and would be a major loss if he went elsewhere.