Northwestern fired coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday amid a hazing scandal that called into question his leadership of the program and damaged the university’s reputation after it mishandled its response to the allegations.
Fitzgerald’s dismissal completed a rapid fall from grace for the former Northwestern linebacker. The 48-year-old Fitzgerald had been firmly entrenched at his alma mater, an annual fixture on any list of college coaches with the most job security.
“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” Northwestern President Michael Schill wrote in an open letter to the university community. “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”
Fitzgerald went 110-101 in 17 seasons as Northwestern’s head coach. He led the Wildcats to Big Ten West championships in 2018 and 2020, plus five bowl victories. But they went 4-20 over his last two seasons.
Schill wrote in his letter that athletic director Derrick Gragg will announce “the leadership for this upcoming football season” in the next couple days. The opener is Sept. 3 at Rutgers.
“I recognize that my decision will not be universally applauded, and there will be those in our community who may vehemently disagree with it,” Schill wrote. “Ultimately, I am charged with acting in the best interests of the entire University, and this decision is reflective of that. The damage done to our institution is significant, as is the harm to some of our students.”
Fitzgerald began a two-week suspension on Friday after the school said an investigation by a law firm did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing — though there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it.
The Daily Northwestern then published a story on Saturday detailing allegations from a former player who described specific instances of hazing and sexual abuse. The report also indicated that Fitzgerald “may have known that hazing took place.”
That led Schill to write an open letter to the university community in which he acknowledged focusing “too much on what the report concluded (Fitzgerald) didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known.” Schill went on to say that he planned to speak with university leadership, members of the board of trustees and leaders of the faculty senate to determine his next steps.
Schill was the president of the University of Oregon before taking over Northwestern in September. He also teaches at Northwestern’s law school.