Pat Fitzgerald has been a part of the Northwestern Wildcats family since the early 1990’s when he was a star linebacker for the program. After his playing career became rather brief in the NFL, he returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach in 2001.
Fitzgerald would later receive his first head coaching gig after the untimely death of former Wildcats coach, Randy Walker, in 2006. Since then, the 2008 Big Ten Coach of the Year has led Northwestern to five consecutive bowl berths and six winning seasons in Evanston.
The Orland Park native has not only taken Northwestern’s football program to new heights, but he has done it with consistency and class. Fitzgerald has also raised the visibility of the program much greater than any coach has ever done with the Wildcats.
As Fitzgerald enters his seventh season leading Northwestern, he has the chance to become the program’s all-time leader in wins as head coach. Fitzgerald is currently second with 40 wins and is nine shy of the record 49 wins set by Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf from 1935-46.
This season could be a special one for the Wildcats, as they have quality players on both sides of the football and are in pursuit of not only a bowl berth but a Big Ten conference championship as well. The Wildcats haven’t won a conference title since 2000 and a championship this season could send this team to the Rose Bowl.
While the Wildcats remain a nice team that could easily reach six wins per season, this season may have higher expectations for a team that has a veteran head coach in Fitzgerald. Not only is Fitzgerald second in wins at Northwestern, he’s the second longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten behind Kirk Ferentz of Iowa.
Given the controversies that engulfed legendary programs and coaches at Ohio State and Penn State, Fitzgerald and Northwestern have stood out as a model on efficiency in relations to keeping off-field problems to a minimum.
With the 2012 season beginning this week, another season-opening victory could net the Wildcats a 7-0 mark under Fitzgerald to start a season. The Wildcats have the talent and certainly the coaching staff to make an impressive run this year.
If Northwestern wins a bowl game and possibly a conference championship, Fitzgerald will undoubtedly become the best head coach in program history, if he isn’t already.
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