EVANSTON -- Where does Northwestern go from here?
Pat Fitzgerald walked into his postgame press conference facing his second-straight 5-7 campaign. The room was fairly empty due in part to it being Thanksgiving weekend and in part to the fact that many of the reporters that cover both Illinois and Northwestern were listening to the victors following the Illini's 47-33 win at Ryan Field. The media members in attendance, though, were the program's most visible mouthpieces; the papers, websites and television stations that give Northwestern alumni, fans and recruits honest reporting and analysis about the program.
There's no doubt Fitzgerald knew this. So, when questions about the program's standing and whether changes may be made arose, he didn't dodge them as gracefully as he usually would. For the first time, Fitzgerald felt the pressure of Northwestern's fan base. They needed answers.
Sure, the quote or sound bite that has been circulated most in the couple of hours since the game finished was when Fitzgerald said, "Our program is as strong and as stable as its ever been."
I'm not here to discuss the merits of that quote, that's already been covered on Twitter and message boards and I'll leave that there.
The more interesting thing to me was this admission from Fitzgerald: "I've got to evaluate where we're at... We'll take a critical eye to everything."
Fitzgerald left the door open for changes, whether they come on the sideline or on the field.
"We've got to look at everything in our program. The whole--everything."
Yes, that seems obvious that after two setback seasons for a program labeled as one that was "on the rise." But the reason these quotes are relevant is because they go against the narrative that Fitzgerald has preached over the years. Fitzgerald sells Northwestern's continuity and takes all the heat that may be directed at his assistant coaches. For the first time, Fitzgerald seems willing to at least look for a change, a positive step for a program that has seemingly been taking negative ones over the past 24 months.
It's just the nature of college football that players come and go and in Northwestern's case, the program has a chance to reset with a new face. Redshirt-freshman-to-be Clayton Thorson and soon-to-be-sophomore Matt Alviti will challenge veteran backup Zack Oliver for the top spot on the quarterback depth chart. Fitzgerald called on a younger wave of offensive lineman to assume more responsibility. A new crop of defensive backs gives a new, more athletic look to the secondary. If there was ever a time for Fitzgerald to make a change, this would be it. There's no time like the present.
Heading into what Fitzgerald called "a very competitive offseason," this is a program that needs a spark, a positive change. Whether Fitzgerald will remove the current offensive staff remains to be seen. But he did leave the door open following the season-ending loss to Illinois.
Now, we wait and see if Pat Fitzgerald keeps his word.