Former Northwestern University head coach Gary Barnett was able to do the (seemingly) impossible by winning two Big Ten football titles (1995-96) at a school many regarded as the doormat program of the conference.
The late Randy Walker was able to build on Barnett’s successes by leading the Wildcats to three bowl games in his seven seasons in Evanston, Illinois and also managed to win a share of the Big Ten title back in 2000.
While I am a firm believer that these two coaches were the ones who were responsible for bringing respect to the once ridiculed program, it appears to me that current head coach Pat Fitzgerald is the one getting all the credit. And quite frankly I’m not buying all the Fitzgerald hype.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a decent coach, but the way the media portrays him as some sort of miracle worker on the sidelines is—not only a fabrication of the truth—it is also becoming more annoying with each passing year.
Answer me this: What has Pat Fitzgerald done that is so far above and beyond what Barnett and Walker were able to accomplish? I will give Fitzgerald credit for the fact that he led the Wildcats to the school’s first bowl victory in 63 years last season when Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl, but other than that, his accomplishments in Evanston have been minimal at best.
In his seven full seasons as the Wildcats head coach, Fitzgerald had finished the Big Ten season with a losing record in four of those seasons. His overall conference record is a pedestrian 26-30. The Wildcats have never finished higher than fourth place in league play, and he has never won (shared or outright) a Big Ten championship.
Did I mention that both of his predecessors won a combined three championships in a much tougher Big Ten?
I don’t want to hear the “it’s difficult to win at Northwestern” argument either. I understand that the requirements are a little tougher in Evanston, but so what? Stanford University is on a par with Northwestern academically and they don’t seem to have a problem. Notre Dame is a heck of an academic institution, but they never struggle with getting talent to come play football in the middle of Indiana. Northwestern has a lot going for it; location, accessibility to quality high school talent, wealthy alumni base, etc., etc.
While Pat Fitzgerald has done a nice job as the head Wildcat in charge, I still feel that he has a lot to prove before we start crowning him as the next Paul “Bear” Bryant, Knute Rockne, or Nick Saban.
For now, let’s just call Fitzgerald a decent coach with room to grow.
Besides, that’s all he is right now anyway.