Coach Pat Fitzgerald is well known as the head coach of the Northwestern University Wildcats football team. Taking over after the unexpected death of his predecessor at the age of 31, he was the youngest head football coach in the Big Ten Conference at the time. Coach Fitz has built the Northwestern football program into one that is about more than winning – it’s founded on the importance of character, teamwork, and the right kind of atmosphere in which students can not only win but also mature as human beings. In this conversation, we chat about Fitz’ childhood, how he was recruited to the football team at Northwestern as a student, and his coaching and team philosophy.
How college recruiting has changed over the years.
Back when Coach Pat Fitzgerald was recruited onto the Northwestern University football team there was no internet, no social media, and no high profile press coverage like there is today. And more importantly, there were no 3rd parties involved in the process. It was just the player, his parents, and the coaching staffs of his high school and the prospective college. With the changes in technology and the business world that have come to touch college sports, more and more pressure is being placed on future college athletes to look and play the part of a future star. Coach Fitz talks about the changes and how the Northwestern staff approaches recruiting – and it’s a lot more like the old days than what you might think.
“The process is pretty simple… Number one: if you don’t fit who we are academically, we’re just not going to recruit you. Then number two: We have a set of values we believe in who fit who we are as a program and we try to investigate this as deep as we can. Number one is the young man’s attitude. What type of attitude does he choose to have? And that’s not a ‘some of the time’ question that’s an “all of the time.’… What kind of work ethic does he have? Is he willing to invest and understand that what I’m working for today I may not have that return on for a number of years or months? It’s not instant gratification. That’s not the way the world works. What kind of character to they demonstrate? Are they making the right choices when no one’s watching? Are they trusted by their peers and by their community?”
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What makes Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s recruiting philosophy unique?
When it comes to college recruiting every college wants to have the best players. But how you define what makes the best players makes all the difference. Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff are not only looking for the players with the most talent or best high school stats. They are looking for the best team players, the ones who have demonstrated humility and responsibility. They want the young men on their team who have the ability to apply themselves for the good of the team as a whole, and will be there for their brothers on and off the field. In this conversation, you can hear how Coach Fitzgerald and his staff find young men who fit that description and why it’s a non-negotiable.
Football orientation that is more than learning how to play the sport.
When a new student comes into the Northwestern Wildcats football program, he goes through a series of orientation classes – and they have very little to do with how to play football and fit in as part of the team. Each student is taught a series of lessons about teamwork, study skills, college success, and how to handle the newfound responsibility of being away from parents for the first time. It’s one of the expressions of Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s greater concern that his players not only succeed on the field but also succeed in life – and in his mind, college success is one of the first steps in that journey. You can hear more from Coach Fitz as he chats with me on this episode.
If the culture is right, ownership flows from the locker room outward.
Team culture is one of the most important aspects of any sports program. Pat Fitzgerald knows that better than most. He spends just as much time building a sense of family and ownership into his players as he does teaching the skills that make for success on the field. He believes that without the sense of community in the locker room, the team will have much less chance of advancing on the field. You can learn how coach Fitz works to create that family atmosphere, and more by listening to this candid and refreshing conversation with one of college football’s greats.
Outline of This Episode
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- [0:24] My introduction of Coach Fitzgerald and this episode of Mo Motion.
- [2:30] Coach Fitzgerald’s background, family life growing up, and the building blocks of his life.
- [5:55] When Coach Fitzgerald knew sports would be more than a game for him.
- [10:57] How Pat was recruited for college and how it differs from today.
- [21:28] The kind of mistakes college players make early in their career that ruin things.
- [28:20] Reasons parents SHOULD have for their child playing sports.
- [38:04] How we can deal with the physical risks of youth sports.
- [47:20] The role of women in sports and the Northwestern approach.
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