Northwestern fired head coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday just days after allegations of team hazing was made public by the Daily Northwestern. Fitzgerald was initially suspended for two weeks without pay after an independent investigation into the hazing allegations. However, Daily Northwestern’s reports on both hazing and alleged racism within the program created a public firestorm against the long-time head coach and ultimately cost him his job.
A Northwestern alum, Fitzgerald took over for his alma mater in 2006. Over the course of 17 seasons, he would become far and away the winningest head coach in program history, leading the Wildcats to 10 bowl game appearances and two Big Ten West division titles. Now his tenure in Evanston, IL, ends in controversy and disgrace, coming just under eight weeks away from the Wildcats’ 2023 season opener at Rutgers.
As for Northwestern, it now has a giant mess on its hands in navigating the immediate aftermath of this scandal. It must find an interim coach that isn’t connected to the hazing incidents, publicly answer for what has taken place, and deal with the potential legal ramifications from the allegations. There’s a lot of boxes for the school and athletic department to check before it can even begin to think about hiring a new, permanent head coach and that process itself could be daunting.
Northwestern has historically been the toughest job in the entire Big Ten, with its recruiting limitations as a private institution and being surrounded by stiff competition within the conference. The influx of Big Ten media rights revenue could be enticing for potential candidates and Fitzgerald did prove you can develop NFL-caliber talent there. However, any coaching candidate would have to think long and hard about taking over at a program that will be in the wake of a national scandal.
Below, we’ll take a crack at some potential candidates the brass at Northwestern could target in the coming months.
Northwestern coaching candidates
The veteran head coach of Tulane is coming off his most successful season in New Orleans, leading the Green Wave to an 11-2 record where they won the AAC title and defeated USC in the Cotton Bowl. He was strongly considered for the Georgia Tech opening during last fall’s coaching cycle before ultimately sticking with Tulane. Turning 64 next year, this could be his final shot at a Power Five gig and the amount of respect he has garnered around the sport would make him a good candidate to hold things down at Northwestern.
Mason is currently taking a sabbatical from coaching after serving as defensive coordinator for Auburn and Oklahoma State for the last two seasons. An assistant head coach under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford, Mason landed the head coaching job at Vanderbilt in 2014 and posted a 27-55 record through seven seasons. While that mark isn’t great, it is incredibly difficult to win in the SEC at a private institution like Vandy and there’s similarities between them and Northwestern. Would a refreshed Mason consider taking on this challenge? It’s worth it for Wildcat officials to give him a call.
Creighton has been one of the more underrated coaches in college football for the last decade at Eastern Michigan. Taking over in Ypisilanti, MI, in 2014, he turned around a historically moribund Eagle program and has led them to five bowl game appearances in 10 seasons. If anyone can adapt to tough situations, it’s Creighton and Northwestern should think outside the box and consider him.