Bumped per the Fairness Doctrine - L8
I know I'm the designated pessimist on the site so people probably don't want to read 900 words written by me, but I wanted to get my feelings out about the Fitz contract. Twitter's 140 character limit really doesn't allow me to make my point and I got bashed for being one of the only people who was lukewarm to Fitz's new deal.
First off, I do not disagree with the deal. I'm not making the assertion that he is a bad coach or should be fired (Those opinions are only about coaches of other teams). I really do like the guy and think he has done a good job at a school that historically hasn't cared much about athletics. He's been extremely gracious whenever I've had the chance to interview him. I just want to get that out of the way before I people misconstrue what I have to say.
What I do think, however, is that his reputation is way above the results he has had at NU. I believe he gets too much credit for success he hasn't really had. His conference record is an unimpressive 18-22 over five years. I am more than willing to throw out his first two years, which of course came after the tragic death of Randy Walker. Fitz probably wasn't ready to be a head coach, but he filled in and got this team back on track pretty quickly. Over his last three years, he is 13-11 in Big Ten Play. I'm continuously told that's great considering where Northwestern has been historically, but people need to put things in perspective. I am well aware this team used to be really bad. But that was a long time ago. In the three years before Fitz, the team was 14-10 in conference play. To use Loretta's words, "he's not some sort of miracle worker." Each of the two coaches before him won conference titles, and Fitz has finished no better than tied for fourth. Winning at NU has been done in the recent past; it's not as if Fitz brought us out of the dark ages (though one could easily make the argument that he did if we include his time as a player but I'm focusing strictly on coaching here).
Then people bring up the bowl situation. He has indeed taken the 'Cats to three straight bowls, which has never been done. True, but that is relative. Firstly, the advent of all these new bowl games has made getting into one much easier. Also, Fitz has gotten us to six wins in the past four years with particularly weak non-conference scheduling. Randy Walker had his teams play much tougher schedules. It's a lot easier to qualify for a bowl if you only need two or three conference wins to do so. I'm not trying to say that the accomplishment is irrelevant, but suggest that it's overplayed.
His reputation is something that has bugged me since I got to Northwestern. I have no quantifiable way of measuring this, but he gets raved about whenever he is brought up on television. ESPN, Big Ten Network, you name it. The few times that they bother to talk about NU, we always here some variation of "Pat Fitzgerald is a great coach." I was inundated with that when I came here, which made me pretty optimistic. (Aside: Yes, believe it or not, I was once a rosy optimist about NU sports. Things changed when I was forced to watch them) I realize one year is a really small sample size, but I was unimpressed with what I saw this year. The team sat on really small leads, making games closer than they should have been and even managing to lose to Purdue. Their run-pass ratio was unacceptable for a team with no offensive line and one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. And the defense neglected to tackle. If these things don't fall back on the head coach, I don't really know who to blame. I'm not saying he can't get better. He's young and there is a good chance that his X's and O's will catch up to the emotion he shows on the sideline. Right now, though, I think most NU fans could point to a number of games last year that they felt were mismanaged.
So that's my take. I'm not asking for him to be fired. Not even close. However, I was a little tempered by the news that he was extended for 10 years because of his aforementioned track record. That attitude stood in stark contrast with the rest of NU fans, who thought this was the best move the program could possibly make. In 10 years, I could very well be proven wrong. Coming off a loss in the Inaugural Ticket City bowl, though, this contract was a damn hard sell to me.