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Y11 Notes: On Northwestern
Y11 Notes: Wednesday, July 12
Or as I like to say, only 51 days until Eastern Michigan football season starts.
A few bullets to share before we talk about a pretty big football story:
Last month, I quietly paused billing from subscribers for the lack of content on my side. Billing, as of this writing, will still be paused for the time being. The plan is to rev things up on the content side, and unpause billing next week. As always, I appreciate the support through the summer as I tried to figure out what’s next for this newsletter.
Speaking of ‘next week’ and ‘what’s next’, Y11 Audio will return Monday.
OK, I think that’s it for now.
From ESPN on Tuesday evening:
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald for cause, his attorney told ESPN on Tuesday, setting up a potential legal showdown between the College Football Hall of Famer and his alma mater.
Attorney Dan Webb said he communicated with Northwestern's general counsel, who informed him of the for-cause termination for Fitzgerald, who had led the team since 2006 and is a former two-time national defensive player of the year at the school. University president Michael Schill fired Fitzgerald on Monday afternoon, citing a partially "broken" team culture following an investigation into hazing within the program.
Webb is researching legal strategies and has not filed a lawsuit, but he cited "two different major breach of contract claims" with Northwestern as well as significant reputational damage.
Northwestern has not informed Webb whether it is seeking to withhold the remaining salary on Fitzgerald's 10-year contract signed in January 2021. Fitzgerald is owed more than $40 million from the school.
Webb told ESPN that in addition to Fitzgerald's employment contract, Northwestern violated an oral agreement reached between the coach, Schill and the university's general counsel last week. Northwestern on Friday announced a two-week, unpaid suspension for Fitzgerald, one of several responding actions after an investigation into the hazing allegations found that the claims were "largely supported by the evidence."
The investigation by attorney Maggie Hickey and the ArentFox Schiff firm did not find evidence that Fitzgerald or Northwestern's other coaches knew about the hazing activities but that they had opportunities to discover and report the behavior.
"I cannot understand how you could terminate someone for cause when they [Northwestern] admit that their own lawyer does not have any evidence that my client ever knew anything at all, about any of the alleged hazing behavior," Webb said. "If I present that to a jury someday, a jury is going have a hard time believing that you can terminate someone for cause when they didn't know anything about [the incidents]."
After a six-month investigation led to a two-week suspension of Pat Fitzgerald on Friday, then his outright firing three days later, it’s fair to say that there’s a little bit of a cluster-you-know-what going on in Evanston.
I’ll say this on the hazing: It’s stupid and avoidable and it doesn’t need to be a prerequisite to be part of any team. Sports, clubs, fraternities — Doing things that are sometimes basically gross and illegal for the sake of togetherness don’t actually accomplish anything because news flash: hazing’s not supposed to be fun. It breaks you down. It’s belittling and sometimes inhumane. Other times it’s carrying a heavy bag from somebody’s car, but we’re not talking about the non-toxic examples now are we? Northwestern’s student-run newspaper published stories on former players detailing their awful experiences, then more players came out to address racist remarks made over time. Also, the paper ran stories about the baseball program’s abusive environment, so it’s a widespread problem over at Northwestern.
In a once-a-year tradition dubbed “the carwash,” the first player said that some players would stand naked at the entrance to the showers and spin around, forcing those entering the showers to “basically (rub) up against a bare-naked man.” Upon entering the showers, the player alleged that players set up a hose they connected to the shower to spray people.
“It’s extremely painful,” the player said.
The player also alleged that he witnessed and was forced to participate in what he called a naked center-quarterback exchange, wherein a freshman quarterback was forced to take an under-center snap from a freshman center, while both players were naked. (via The Daily Northwestern)
On the football side of things, Northwestern’s been a fairly non-interesting brand for a while now. Even if it has won two divisional titles within the Big Ten (2018, 2020), Fitzgerald’s been able to find plenty of losses to low-level MAC schools too (he did both in 2018). He won 110 games and lost 101 as the head coach since 2006. The team’s had some good years, it’s had low moments, but I don’t think anybody’s looking at this program as something that’s incapable of winning if the right formula is in place. But who will (can?) Northwestern hire right now with everything else going on?
JUST SOME NAMES
I doubt Northwestern is as organized on this front as it probably would want to be, so we’re more or less just saying words at this point. Whether you’re reading names here at Y11 or at The Athletic/New York Times, what you need to know is that this is one of the most unorganized coaching replacement starts any of us have ever seen from the outside, so I can’t imagine getting a new coach through its doors will be a fun or easy ride when the season begins in seven and a half weeks.
I, a huge football fan, really only care about the football thing in all of this. The faculty and real decision-makers at Northwestern have other priorities. Does Northwestern want a serious football coach with all these high marks in football? Does Northwestern want a coach who knows how to weather losing seasons? How uncomfortable does Northwestern wish to get with winning in the new post-Fitzgerald era and as it transitions into the 16-team Big Ten and 12-team playoff years.
Things are very emotional over at Northwestern whether check-writers liked Fitzgerald or not. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes for a second. If I were a super-rich Northwestern booster who has gotten some joy out of writing checks to help the school’s football program, how excited would I be to reach for my checkbook this time if I’m not 100% on board with the school’s president or athletic director? The variance on what level of coach can and will be hired with just a couple of months before the season begins will be heavily dependent on how the real-world emotions surrounding the recent news will affect future checks being written to the program, or for its next head coach.
But saying names is free, so let’s throw out some MAC guys.
Chris Creighton’s name has already been thrown out by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, Chris Vannini, and Nick Baumgardner. This isn’t the first time Creighton’s name has been mentioned in passing for job openings across the Big Ten. We’re just talking here: I don’t see it happening. I could see more national interest for Northwestern if Creighton wanted to finally make the jump, and I don’t think he’d dislike the private school setup either. If this job opened up in December, we’d probably have a longer conversation on this. Maybe I’m dead wrong, but July 12 seems like it’s too close to the start of the 2023 season for a move like this. It’s still a Big Ten job, and the Northwestern job doesn’t always open up to the market.
Sean Lewis is a former MAC guy of course as the departed head coach from Kent State. His flashy offense is now at Colorado, leading that side of the ball for the new Deion Sanders crew. Lewis grew up in suburban Chicago (Oak Lawn, Ill.) and he’s already missed out on head coaching openings before Sanders invited him to join him in Colorado.
Dave Clawson is an unoriginal name here. Clawson’s already been mentioned as a potential hire for Notre Dame and Stanford when those jobs each opened up, so he’s got to be mentioned here for Northwestern. Clawson built Bowling Green up to be a tough-nosed MAC title winner in 2013 over Northern Illinois. With Wake Forest, Clawson’s slow-mesh RPO offense helped the Deacons see new highs and reach a 19-8 record over the last two seasons.
Lance Leipold, formerly of Buffalo, now killing it in Kansas. The more I think about this possible marriage, the more I love how much closer to his Wisconsin roots Leipold would be at Northwestern.
Ron English because Northwestern AD Derrick Gragg is the guy who hired English to EMU once upon a time.