I'm not sure I've seen a worse football game in my life than what I saw on Saturday at Ryan Field. The pure ineptitude of both teams in all phases was truly an incredible accomplishment. But that said, it's been a long time since I've had so much fun watching a football game. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg had a good word for it: #funbad.
We at InsideNU embraced the #funbad to the max, chronicling the entire experience with Vines. But as fun as it was to watch predictable ineptitude keep showing up in new, unpredictable ways, it really is sad that this, of all ways, is how Northwestern ended up on the national stage.
Northwestern is a laughing stock nationally. And to think how we got here is truly amazing.
The Wildcats, who used to get credit from the national media for being in games they had no business winning, are now expected to screw up. Pat Fitzgerald has gone from future Texas/Michigan/everyone's head coach to the coach of a 3-6 program that people only pay attention to when they provide us with a #funbad GIF. The same Pat Fitzgerald, who less than two years ago, claimed after a Gator Bowl victory over current top-ranked team Mississippi State that Northwestern was "here now, and we're here to stay." The depth of this fall is truly hard to comprehend, but there was one play within all the suck today that summed it up quite well.
After scoring a touchdown to set up a game-tying PAT, Northwestern decided to go for two. Apparently, Fitzgerald had decided that NU would not be playing for overtime well before that call, despite the fact that his offense had finally seemed to be getting into rhythm. So the Wildcats sent their offense out to line up, and predictably, Michigan called a timeout. But NU didn't change anything in the huddle. They went back out with the same formation — one similar to the two-point conversion they ran against Cal — and had Trevor Siemian roll right, INTO a stacked Michigan left side. Siemian slipped and fell to end the game, narrowly avoiding being gang-tackled by a pack of Wolverines.
I asked Fitzgerald why they went for two.
"We were going to win."
So why go with the same play, especially since you've shown your cards on multiple occasions and are running right into trouble?
"We thought it was going to work."
That arrogance — and yes, it is arrogance — used to be endearing to fans, the media and really everyone who watched Fitzgerald's teams. Now it's nonsensical, because that's absolutely what that play call and justification were: nonsense. And the mistakes caused by that arrogance, many coaching and development related, that continue to stack up week after week have made the mob calling for coaching changes louder than ever. Heck, these guys got into the game.
Perhaps even more jarring is the former players who played for this coaching staff criticizing their work and calling for firings.
That's why people are getting fired.— Nate Williams (@BigEasyCat44) November 8, 2014
You never go for 2 to win with time remaining at home. Death Valley or ryan field I don't give a shit.— Nate Williams (@BigEasyCat44) November 8, 2014
@BigEasyCat44 Can we talk about why we went out w/the same formation after Mich called a TO? Everyone knew it was a roll out to the right— Bo Cisek (@DaDoze55) November 8, 2014
While there will always be people calling for firings within a fan base, this is different. This is basically unanimous agreement for firing certain coaches, and the pressure on Fitzgerald, himself, is at a level it's never been. And it's 100 percent justified.
Northwestern's adoration of Fitzgerald has always been puzzling. He was an outstanding player, and that seems to have gotten him a pass as a coach. He's a legend, he's untouchable, and thanks to a couple January bowl appearances to go along with his legacy, he has a contract through 2020. Firing coordinators? Sure, you can suggest that, but don't suggest firing Fitz. He's too good of a face for the program. But as an objective observer, why is he so untouchable? What about his record at NU is so amazing, and what other coach would still be so secure after such a dismal run in the Big Ten?
Northwestern will almost certainly keep Fitzgerald this year, and that could very well be the right call. As a journalist covering the team, I can't argue either way. But it is fair to point out that the mob is out there ... and it's growing.
What we've seen over the past two years is an increasingly arrogant coaching style, and questions of favoritism have even frustrated people within the program. For example, the fact that a clearly unqualified Treyvon Green returning kicks and the constant defense of everything Trevor Siemian does have irked some players, who feel like players who aren't "the coaches' guys" aren't getting a fair shake.
On Saturday, everything seemed to come crashing down. For the first time, Northwestern's coach didn't seem infallible, and for the first time, some assistants' fates seemed inevitable. No longer is anybody getting a pass for what happened 20 years ago or for putting on a good face for the program.
That might be a harsh reality for Northwestern athletics, but when you're a laughing stock, you can't really expect much else.