Two of college football’s most prestigious programs, Texas and USC, are faced with the likely decision to make a change at head coach where Mack Brown and Lane Kiffin have taken their programs to new lows. The hot name being whispered as a possible replacement for the Longhorns’ and Trojans’ potential vacant job is Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, but he should never leave the Wildcats.
Under Fitzgerald’s watch the Cats are coming off the program’s third 10-win season and first bowl win since 1949. Expectations for the program have never been higher in his eighth season as the coach of his alma mater. After his first season in 2006 when his team went 4-8 when he took over after the unexpected death of Randy Walker, Northwestern has been bowl-eligible for six straight seasons and should make that seven in 2013.
Fitzgerald is the closest thing to a lifer in the world of college athletics as you can get. He is the epitome of Northwestern and represents the university with pride after being a player on the team’s Rose Bowl team in 1996 ending every media appearance with “Go Cats.” His family and three sons live in suburban Chicago near the Evanston campus and appear to be living an idyllic life.
Texas and USC certainly are two of the top five to 10 jobs in America for most people, but Coach Fitz as he’s affectionately known is not most people. He is not the type of person to jump from one jump to the next to cash in on his next big contract. Part of what makes him such an effective recruiter is his infectious personality, straight-forward approach rooted in family and Midwestern sensibilities.
If one of these schools were to offer him the job it would be a complete contradiction to the person Northwestern fans and football fans in general have known to respect, admire and trust. Many coaches would jump at the opportunity to coach in Texas or California where you can find four and five-star recruits in your backyard.
However, the emergence of Texas A&M in the SEC will make it more difficult to continue the pipeline of the top recruits flowing to Austin. We’ve already seen this impact with 14 of the top 50 recruits in Texas headed to College Station last year to only eight for the Horns. USC has a similar circumstance with UCLA and Stanford plucking top in-state recruits and Oregon taking players such as De’Anthony Thomas, Arik Armstead and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu out of California and into the Pacific Northwest.
Northwestern has gone from the basement of the Big Ten to annual bowl-eligible status to expecting 10-wins, and this success gives the team recruiting cache to pluck the top high school players in the talent rich area of Chicago. The 2014 class currently ranks at No. 35 on 247Sports or 26 spots higher than Kiffin’s Trojans. At Northwestern there isn’t an in-state powerhouse to compete for recruits, and although he will compete with some conference powers and Notre Dame, the academic reputation of the school makes them a program with national recruiting power.
Northwestern doesn’t have the crippling expectations hanging over the program as the two others do. Win eight or nine games at Northwestern and a parade in your honor will be thrown down Michigan Ave, but if you win eight at Texas or USC, you’re likely to be in the unemployment line before too long.
With Fitzgerald the Cats are ready to take the next step toward becoming an elite program and look like a safe bet to win more games over the next four years than whoever is running things in Austin or L.A. After the Wildcats defeated Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl last season, Fitzgerald remarked that this was just the beginning for the program.
Fitzgerald won’t be leaving for Texas or USC anytime soon, but they will try and make it hard for him to rebuff their overtures.