That was one of the comments yesterday on Henry's outstanding article on Pat Fitzgerald's gamble in retaining his coaches. The comment section took some turns from the initial premise of the article, as it often does and eventually, the conversation turned to whether the Wildcats could ever get a coach like Pat Narduzzi (who will likely get the Pitt job) to coach in Evanston.
Many Northwestern fans seem to wear the difficulties of winning at NU as a badge of honor, so while most programs would be full of fans defending how good their job is, Wildcat fans tend to argue the opposite. The argument here: NU is not as good of a job as Pitt.
The reasons given were to be expected: academic standards, bad fan base, bad tradition, money, etc. The idea is that all of these things are limits in recruiting when NU goes out to find players, and since many programs don't have all of those things, they are easier places to win. But this is a far too simplistic way to explain the situation.
While Northwestern might be forced to ignore some good football players that it might otherwise be willing to recruit due to its academic standards (mainly JUCO kids), the Wildcats also have some unique advantages in recruiting, namely that they have great academics. And those academics — and the ability to place athletes in good jobs after college — are one of the ways that NU is able to hang with other schools on the recruiting trail.
Take Pitt, for example. The Panthers are a middle of the road program in college football who really don't have anything to offer that NU doesn't. Maybe they can get a few JUCO recruits that NU isn't able to offer, but when it comes down to things they can actually sell, the Panthers don't have a very unique selling point. The Wildcats, on the other hand, do. While academics aren't going to resonate with every kid, they certainly do with some, and the academic component can be key for NU when competing against other middle of the road teams, and when hoping to steal a recruit from a top-ranked program.
Nobody would say that NU is a better job than any blue blood school, and it's not even a better job than, say, Iowa or Missouri. However, there's a very valid case that it's easier to recruit to Northwestern than it is to recruit to Purdue, Illinois or even Minnesota. Those last two will be met with some contention, so let's discuss them.
Right now, it's hard to determine how on Earth you could say that NU is at a significant disadvantage when recruiting against Illinois. The Wildcats have owned the Illini in recruiting (they haven't lost a kid that both schools wanted in over a year), and it's fairly easy to see why. There's nothing to really separate those programs other than the academic aspect. Illinois has more money, but NU actually pays Fitzgerald $500,000 more per year than Illinois pays Tim Beckman, and when NU's new lakefront facility goes up, it may even have a facilities advantage.
The argument is similar when it comes to Minnesota. The Gophers' fan base is a bit better than NU's, but what about Minnesota's program jumps out that makes it significantly better than NU? Is a recruit really going to choose Minnesota over Northwestern because of the fan base? Moreover, what advantage does Minnesota have when trying to beat out Iowa or Nebraska for a player? The answer is essentially nothing — just hope that the recruit feels more comfortable in Minnesota. But Northwestern has an actual tangible benefit that a school like Minnesota doesn't have.
This has been backed up in the recruiting rankings, where NU has proven itself to get mid-tier Big Ten talent. Here's how NU has ranked in recruiting over the past six years, compared to the rest of the Big Ten:
|Big Ten Rank (out of 14)||6||5||7||9||7||5|
Northwestern is not a great job, and it's certainly much easier to win at other places than it is to win at NU. But the Wildcats are willing to pay fairly well for their coach, and they have a wild card that they can throw out in recruiting that other mid-level schools do not.
The NU job is not the Pitt job. Nor is it the Illinois job or the Purdue job. It's better.