Find Your Program Here

January 13, 2016

No Ordinary Irish Guy

No Ordinary Irish Guy

WILDCAT WEDNESDAY—I could only handle a few minutes of The Outback Bowl. For starters, watching football – the game itself – is something I struggle with knowing all we now how about the impact of the injuries and contact. Plus it reminded me of our post-Rose Bowl days when Tennessee ran all over us on the football field. Then I started thinking about the second round of the NCAA tournament when our coach took our four-guard offense and turned it into a basketball nightmare in our face off against the Lady Vols at Tennessee. I looked up at the clock at one point in that game, and did not think we were going to score more than 10 points.

I watched the Cats playing in Tampa with sympathy and empathy. I had to shut it off.

The few times that I have watched over the years are spent paying close attention to Pat Fitzgerald. Pat and I were at Northwestern around the same time. I think he was a sophomore when I was a fifth-year senior. I caught up with Pat at a Northwestern alumni event in NYC maybe five years ago. We talked like old friends up until the point I realized that both of us had either matured or just forgotten the truth.
“Pat,” I said. “I’m not kidding, we never said more than hi and I must have saw you every day walking to or from the weight room, in the weight room, on the turf, in the training room, in the parking lot for years. We never said more than hi because we had no time. We were both too busy working our asses off.”

He smiled.

Pat was always polite. I knew he was shy. He didn’t like the spotlight at all, and I think it’s fair to say he only takes the spotlight because it’s a significant part of being a great coach and leader. Back then I’d heard he was good. I knew he was tough, South Side Irish, my long lost cousin. And I knew what Gary Barnett was up to. I could feel the tide changing, and I knew this Irish guy named Fitz was part of it before the football world knew just by the amount of times we passed each other, just by the stern, focused look on his face.
The difference between Pat and the handful of football guys who were workaholics is that he honestly didn’t have time to BS or flirt or waste time. I hardly ever saw him messing around or wasting too much time between a set or a run.

Pat was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, a Chuck Bednarik award winner and consensus All-American as a player after breaking his leg one game before the Rose Bowl in 1996. He did his time at two other schools before getting his chance to return to Northwestern. He was not just the youngest man to be named head football coach at the time – at 31 years old – he was the youngest by five years.

It all points back to that humble, shy, get-the-work-done-first-and-talk-later guy who got under the hood, covered every detail, and held himself accountable to his dream on the field and on the sideline. That’s why I watch Fitz when the team plays. I watch him with his guys in the huddle, and know that while his players didn’t see or pass by their coach in the making, they have to know his story by the way he carries himself today. And I know they’re lucky he’s around to make them better men.

90160_1 maxresdefault pat-fitzgerald

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)