When word started to circulate that the Green Bay Packers were targeting Pat Fitzgerald for their head coaching opening this past off season, even the most loyal of Northwestern fans were left feeling that if Fitz was going to leave for somewhere, an NFL franchise as iconic as the Packers would be really tempting to even someone as loyal as he has been.
However, despite Green Bay president Mark Murphy having a background as the former athletic director at Northwestern who saw something special in the young position coach and gave Fitzgerald his first shot at running a program, Fitz decided to stay put.
Further back than the Packers pursuit of him, Fitz had turned down interest from a number of college blue blood programs over the years as well, and if he keeps Northwestern trending upward, that likely isn’t going to be changing anytime soon.
Fitz shared shared with 670 The Score in Evanston, that he plans to lead the program for the foreseeable future at the very least, citing fit and a sense of security that is so rare in the coaching profession as main factors.
“My commitment is to be here. I’d love to have the opportunity to have my kids go to the same grade schools, the same high schools and be around these types of players. For my sons, our players are their role models. I wouldn’t want our (children) to look up to any other group of guys than our guys,” Fitz shared.
“I just really think I fit. The values of the university fit what I believe in.”
Fitzgerald’s head coaching journey that has now spanned 14 years wasn’t without some growth and bumps in the road though, but because of that unique fit he has been fortunate to find and a loyal administration that shares Fitzgerald’s vision, he’s in a good place.
As a player, Fitzgerald was one of the best linebackers in the country, but part of the problem when he first stepped into the head coaching role was that he tried to approach everything from that same linebackers perspective.
“When I first took over, I approached it from my expertise. I was a defensive guy, a linebacker guy. There was one way to go through the door — you go through it. You don’t knock, you don’t say, ‘Hey, can I come in?’ You go right through it. That doesn’t work with every guy. That doesn’t work with every position. It doesn’t work with leading a program.
“It takes a village. That’s kind of the way I look at it from a program standpoint. For all of our guys to develop, it takes a village. I think I’m doing a better job leading that village.”
Clearly, Fitz has grown leaps and bounds since then, and finds himself in spot that few coaches have been in – He’s got a team that can contend for a conference title, he’s every bit as loyal to his employer as they are to him, and he’s doing all that while approaching the midway point of his second decade leading an FBS program.
Many have thought that Fitz may be crazy for turning down opportunities in college football, and even in the NFL, but truth is he’s seeing things clearer than a lot of guys in the profession do, and more importantly, he’s also able to identify and appreciate it as well.