In the wake of a hazing scandal that has rocked its football program, Northwestern University has fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald. University president Michael Schill announced Monday that allegations of hazing within the football program are casting a dark cloud over the prestigious school.
Fitzgerald was fired shortly after the school announced he was suspended without pay for two weeks. That suspension followed the conclusion of a university-commissioned investigation into allegations made by an anonymous whistleblower.
However, new allegations that have come to light have pushed the school to rethink the suspension. There is no telling what impact this could have on the team this upcoming season.
Daily Northwestern report pushes university to change course
After a whistleblower laid out severe hazing allegations, the school laid out its initial punishment for Fitzgerald. The school said the investigation into the claims started in January. The investigation was conducted by the law firm ArentFox Schiff and led by former Illinois Inspector General Maggie Hickey.
In Hickey’s investigation, she found that the evidence uncovered largely supported the whistleblower’s claims against the program. She added that there was insufficient evidence to show that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing. However, it was determined that there were opportunities to find out about it.
Things changed after The Daily Northwestern published a story detailing allegations from a former player who described specific instances of hazing and sexual abuse. The ex-player said the alleged hazing acts were “egregious and vile and inhumane behavior.” The report also indicated that Fitzgerald “may have known that hazing took place.”
That led university president Schill to write an open letter to the university community, in which he said he may have made a mistake with Fitzgerald’s original punishment.
“I focused too much on what the report concluded he didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known,” Schill wrote in the statement.
Schill then relieved Fitzgerald of his duties effective immediately. He added that the expectations of how a head football coach handles the culture around the team are what led him to this decision.
“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” said Schill. “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. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”
What’s next for the Wildcats football team?
While the fallout from this hazing scandal will continue, there is still a football season just around the corner. Fitzgerald, a former star linebacker for the Wildcats served as the head coach at his alma mater for 17 years. He took over after the unexpected death of Randy Walker in 2006.
Under his leadership, the program made it to two Big Ten Conference championship games. The Wildcats have also won five Bowl Games under Fitzgerald, more than they had in the previous 124 years. University president Schill said that future team leadership announcements will be coming soon.
The Northwestern Wildcats are coming off a well below-average season in 2022. The team was only able to win one game, going 1-11 on the year. So the Wildcats’ odds of making noise in the Big Ten in 2023 are not very good.
Online sportsbooks have the odds of the Wildcats winning the Big Ten near the bottom, though online college betting for IL teams is not legal in the state. Northwestern is predicted to finish the 2023 season among the likes of Rutgers and Indiana. The head coaching change will likely impact these odds, but only slightly.
That said, head coaching positions in college football are highly coveted. We could see a list of big names emerge to take over the vacancy in a conference that will see the additions of USC and UCLA in 2024. However, it is unlikely any new hire will substantially impact this year’s squad.