Northwestern Fires Pat Fitzgerald Following Reports of Hazing in Program

By Dan Hope on July 10, 2023 at 7:29 pm
Pat Fitzgerald
Brad Mills – USA TODAY Sports

Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure as Northwestern’s football coach is over.

Fitzgerald, who had been Northwestern’s head coach since 2006, was fired by Northwestern on Monday following an investigation into hazing within the Northwestern football program.

Fitzgerald was initially suspended for just two weeks by Northwestern on Friday following the conclusion of the university’s own investigation into hazing allegations, but was fired by the university just three days later after details of the alleged hazing surfaced over the weekend.

“The decision comes after a difficult and complex evaluation of my original discipline decision imposed last week on Coach Fitzgerald for his failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program,” Northwestern president Michael Schill wrote in a statement. “Over the last 72 hours, I have spent a great deal of time in thought and in discussions with people who love our University — the Chair and members of our Board of Trustees, faculty leadership, students, alumni and Coach Fitzgerald himself. I have also received many phone calls, text messages and emails from those I know, and those I don’t, sharing their thoughts. While I am appreciative of the feedback and considered it in my decision-making, ultimately, the decision to originally suspend Coach Fitzgerald was mine and mine alone, as is the decision to part ways with him.”

Schill wrote Monday that 11 current or former Northwestern football players “acknowledged that hazing has been ongoing within the football program” during the university’s investigation.

“The hazing included forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature, in clear violation of Northwestern policies and values,” Schill wrote.

A former Northwestern football player told The Daily Northwestern, the university’s student newspaper, that the hazing that took place within the program included a practice called “running,” in which players would “be restrained by a group of 8-10 upperclassmen dressed in various ‘Purge-like’ masks, who would then begin ‘dry-humping’ the victim in a dark locker room.”

According to The Daily’s report, “team members allegedly identified players for ‘running’ by clapping their hands above their heads around that player.” The former player told the student newspaper that Fitzgerald “repeatedly made the signal during practices when players, specifically freshmen, made a mistake.” The former player also “alleged that he witnessed the team participate in other hazing traditions in which freshmen were forced to strip naked and perform various acts, including bear crawling and slingshotting themselves across the floor with exercise bands.”

The Daily also “obtained images of whiteboards labeled ‘Runsgiving’ and ‘Shrek’s List,’ containing a list of names indicating players that the player said needed to be ‘ran.’” ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reported Sunday that a former player sent him an image of that whiteboard and said that whiteboard “was in the middle of the locker room for all eyes to see throughout my entire time in the program.”

Many current and former players publicly defended Fitzgerald in the wake of The Daily Northwestern’s report. One group claiming to represent “the ENTIRE Northwestern football team” released a statement describing the allegations as “exaggerated and twisted” and saying Fitzgerald “was not involved in any of the alleged incidents in any way, shape, or form.”

Fitzgerald denied knowledge of any hazing in a statement released by Northwestern on Friday, saying he “was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team.” He reiterated that stance in a statement to ESPN on Monday, saying he “had no knowledge whatsoever of any form of hazing within the Northwestern Football Program.” Fitzgerald also said he has entrusted his agent and legal counsel “to take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”

Schill said in a statement Saturday that “there was no direct evidence that Coach Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing,” but also acknowledged he “may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction for Coach Fitzgerald” and that he “focused too much on what the report concluded he didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known.”

“As the head coach of one of our athletics programs, Coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program but also must take great care to uphold our institutional commitment to the student experience and our priority to ensure all students — undergraduate and graduate — can thrive during their time at Northwestern. Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction,” Schill wrote Saturday.

In his statement accompanying Monday’s firing, Schill wrote that “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.”

As a result, Fitzgerald’s tenure at his alma mater has ended following 16 seasons in which he went 110-101 and led Northwestern to a pair of Big Ten West titles in 2018 and 2020. He was coming off his least successful season as Northwestern’s head coach in 2022, as the Wildcats won only one game – their season opener against Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland – before losing their final 11 contests lsat season.

A linebacker for the Wildcats from 1993-96, Fitzgerald had been on Northwestern’s coaching staff since 2001, initially serving as defensive backs coach and later becoming the Wildcats’ linebackers coach before his promotion to head coach in 2006 following the death of Randy Walker.

Per Schill‘s statement on Monday, a coach for the 2023 football season will be announced by Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg “in the days ahead.” ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Monday night that Northwestern is expected to name David Braun, who became the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator in January after previously holding the same role for four years at North Dakota State, as its acting head coach.

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