Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern University head football ...
January 17, 2013
The long list of accomplishments that Orland Park native Pat Fitzgerald has compiled since taking over the Northwestern University football program in 2006, as the youngest head coach in the country, recently had a big one added to it.
The former Sandburg High School star took his game to another level as an All-American linebacker at Northwestern, and took the program to another level as a New Year's Day bowl winner.
Fitzgerald was part of a litany of historic successes at Northwestern as a player and coach, but never a bowl victory until a 34-20 win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. That not only capped a 10-3 season but was the school's first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
"Obviously, to have the entire class graduate, multiple guys in graduate school, to graduate as the all time winningest senior class, and to be the first senior class since 1949 to win a bowl game, I think speaks volumes for the legacy, and the incredible success and the foundation that they've laid for the future," Fitzgerald said after the game in a release. "And that will be our challenge as we move forward."
Fitzgerald led the team to bowl games the last four years but couldn't get that elusive postseason win, although the Wildcats were very close. The average loss in the four games was one touchdown and two of the losses were in overtime.
Northwestern finished 10-3 for the year to become the third team in school history (1995 and 1903) to reach 10 wins. And Fitzgerald became the first coach to reach 50 career victories at Northwestern. Fitzgerald was the Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year on the 1995 team.
Overall, Northwestern went to nine bowl games since that last win. Fitzgerald's group had a stuffed monkey in a Northwestern jersey on the sidelines in bowl games, but couldn't dismantle that until this year.
Northwestern was in control for most of the bowl win, starting with a defensive touchdown on the third play of the game. The locker room celebration included players ripping the monkey to shreds.
"I've never been here before [after a bowl win], so I'm not sure how to act," Fitzgerald said. "But this is what's left of the monkey after the guys tore it apart, obviously, in the locker room. But there are so many lessons this team has learned, especially for our seniors throughout their journey, and it's been a special journey."
Fitzgerald was tied with Pappy Waldorf (1935-46) for most wins at Northwestern before the bowl win.
"Well, selfishly, it's very humbling, but if it was just me, then how selfish would I be?" Fitzgerald said. "It's about our young men, all the great young men that I've had the privilege to be their head coach, and very privileged to helping them to grow and be the best they can.
"[And] the best [assistant] coaching staff in history, and the best and brightest in college football. I say that humbly, but we're a little biased that way, and the credit goes to the staff."
The bowl monkey may be off the program's back, but Fitzgerald sees this as just the beginning.
"Obviously, it says on our goal board, and it's no secret that our goal is to be champions, and this is the first step in accomplishing that mission," Fitzgerald said. "So we're very thankful to our seniors and everything they've done for the program. They've paved the way for us. The sky is the limit for where our program can go."
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