Jul 10, 2023 - Sports

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald fired after hazing probe

Coach in purple hoodie with arms crossed, surrounded by football players in black uniforms and helmets.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald on Evanston, Illinois, on Oct. 08, 2022. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Northwestern University fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald Monday after reports of widespread hazing on the team.

Why it matters: Lawmakers, fans and columnists are chastising the prestigious university for not taking more decisive action sooner against Fitzgerald, the winningest coach in Wildcats history, after an investigation revealed evidence the hazing took place.

  • Fitzgerald's firing comes as Northwestern's baseball coach is facing allegations of "bullying and abusive behavior," according to the Tribune.

Catch up fast: Northwestern president Michael Schill announced Fitzgerald's firing in a letter late Monday, saying the hazing — which involved "nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature" — was "clearly not a secret within the program."

  • Schill said that 11 current or former football student-athletes confirmed the allegations that hazing has been ongoing within the team.
  • The university's independent investigation did not find credible evidence that Fitzgerald knew it was happening, Schill said.

What they're saying: "The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team," Schill wrote.

The other side: Fitzgerald said in a statement late Monday that he had "no knowledge whatsoever of any form of hazing" within the football program.

  • He also said that he was "surprised" to learn he had been terminated and that he's entrusted his attorney and agent to take the "necessary steps to protect my rights."
  • A spokesperson from Northwestern Athletic Department told Axios: “Our department’s annual review of all aspects of the Wildcats baseball program is ongoing. The well-being of our student-athletes remains Northwestern’s top priority.”
  • Axios reached out to an email listed for baseball coach Jim Foster but did not get a response.

Catch up fast: On Friday, the university released a summary report from the investigation into hazing allegations on the football team, which was launched in the fall of 2022 after a player made an anonymous complaint.

  • The university placed Fitzgerald on a two-week, unpaid suspension last week based on the findings, but soon after the student-run newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, published details from former players, including allegations that Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing.
  • After those details emerged, Schill said he may have "erred" with his suspension of Fitzgerald.

Context: Fitzgerald, a former star linebacker for the Wildcats, became head coach in 2006, and signed a ten-year contract in 2020 worth a reported $57 million, according to the Tribune.

  • Fitzgerald is credited with turning around the Northwestern football program. He took his team to 10 bowl games and won two Big Ten West division titles.

The intrigue: After this season, the university plans to tear down Ryan Field to make way for a new 35,000-seat stadium that is estimated to cost $800 million. It's expected to be ready for the 2026 season.

  • In 2018, the university built a new state-of-the-art lakeside practice facility that cost $260 million. At the time, it was the most expensive practice facility in the Big Ten.
  • Fitzgerald told the press the facility was just the beginning for transforming the football culture. "I am going to challenge everybody that touches our program to step it up. The University stepped it up. Quit b---hin', quit belly-achin', become part of the solution and let's go."

What's ahead: The university plans to announce new leadership for the upcoming football season in the coming days.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Northwestern University president Michael Schill.


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