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Transcript: Pat Fitzgerald on the Northwestern Union

Here's a full look at what Pat Fitzgerald had to say about the union, as well as some quotes from Trevor Siemian.

Q: What are you saying to the players about the decision of the NLRB this week?

Fitz: “It’s tough to be silent. As a coach, you’re an educator. When I sat in guys’ living rooms, that’s what their parents entrusted me to do. I understand and respect the process. I didn’t meet with [media] on Tuesday because I hadn’t had a chance to talk to my team. We’ll continue to educate them, that’s what we’re doing. Specifics, those are things that I’ll share with my players, that’s what we’ll talk about. What happens in a football family typically stays in a football family.

“I’m proud of our guys for standing up. From day one, I’ve been outspoken about positive change for student athletes, it’s well documented. Our guys know that, and we’ll work through it.”

Q: “Why are you guys so adamantly anti-union? Why do you think it would be bad for you?”

Fitz: “I believe it’s in the young mens’ best interest because right now, we have great protocols in place and we haven’t been forced to do that by any third party. I believe that we’re the best player development staff in the country, and our young men believe in that. Now it’s time to educate them.  We have to educate them to help them understand the whole aspect of what this decision is. That’s what their parents entrusted us to do, that’s what they untrusted us to do, and we’ll continue to work with them to do that.”

Q: [Two reporters begin to ask a question at once]

Fitz: “Can I interrupt you guys. Can one guy ask me a question at a time please. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude.”

Q: When you talked to them on Wednesday, what was your message to them?

Fitz: “My message was to educate them. I’m sticking to the facts. The things that I know over 8 years I’ve accomplished, and our program has accomplished, and our athletic administration has accomplished, and our university has accomplished [has been] without any third party being involved.

“Our guys have open lines of communication to me. They’ve expressed that to me. We just have to continue to do a great job educating them.”

Q: Have you at all considered the recruiting benefits of better medical coverage with a union? 

Fitz: “The hard thing with being silent is that I’m not allowed to speculate. There’s laws and rules and I’m not allowed to speculate. It’s my understanding from the education that I’m receiving… and I’m a football coach, I’m a teacher, I’m an educator, this isn’t what I signed up to be; I signed up to develop these guys into the best they can be, not to be an employer.

“I understand where we’re at, and I respect all those things, but when you’re a teacher and a coach, and a parent and a father figure, that’s what you’re going to do, and what I will always continue to do. Everybody that’s ever been in this football program under my leadership understands that, and this coaching staff understands that, and we’re very proud of that. We’ll work through it everyday with our guys because we all love ‘em, and they love us, and that’s how it goes.”

Q: “What type of questions are you getting from players, from parents, from recruits?” 

Fitz: “From an educational standpoint, I’m getting inundated with questions. At this time, I’d prefer to keep that between the guys. If they want, they have the freedom to talk. They’ve got freedom of speech, and that’s the great thing about being an American. And I hope that they do [talk]. We’re encouraging them to speak to their parents. We’re encouraging them to understand, do the research, and get the facts; not listen to innuendo, speculation and all that stuff… get the facts.

“I’ll stand upon what we’ve done over this eight-year period. I’ve been here for 14 [years], plus four years as a student athlete, that’s 18 years on this campus, and I believe in what I was taught as a student athlete here. I believe in what this great game has taught me. I believe in what I’m able to do then as an expert to teach young men how to become men, and I’ve got great pride in that. I look forward to continuing to educate our guys.”

Q: “Your hope is that they vote ‘no’?”

Fitz: “I believe it’s in their best interest to vote ‘no,’ on the research that I’ve done. I’m going to stick to the facts, I’m going to do everything in my power to educate our guys, and our university is going to give them all the resources they need to get the facts. It’s not just going to be me. We’ll work through that together as we move forward. But that’s what I believe is in their best interest.”

Q: “Have you made your opinion pretty well known to the players?”

Fitz: “I’ve had two opportunities to visit with them and I’ve stuck to the facts.”

Q: “How tough a line is that to straddle? You said there’s laws and rules about what you can do in terms of instructing the kids.”

Fitz: “I’m a teacher, I’m a coach, I’m an educator, and there’s no laws against that.”

Q: “Has this impacted what you’ve been able to do or how spring practice has developed?”

Fitz: “There’s definitely conversation that has nothing to do with football going on right now. That’s what we have to do and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Q: “Can you tell us about the difficulty of the fact that Kain Colter is asking them to vote ‘yes,’ and they look up to him and obviously look up to you and you’re asking them to vote no.”

Fitz: “I have to educate our players. I’ll stand on the eight years I’ve had here as a head football coach, and my long tenure here as an assistant coach. I know our guys trust me, and I believe that. That’s what they’ve expressed to me.

“I think I’ve been pretty clear with my support. I’ve always been an advocate for change for student athletes if it’s going to have a positive impact. I’m going to continue to educate our guys on that.

“I’m on the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees, I’ve met with the NCAA numerous times since I’ve been on that, but nobody asked me the mechanism of, ‘coach, how can you help me?’ No current player, no former player. You can do all the research, Google my name, use your search engines to find that I’ve always been an advocate for student athletes – because I’ve been there, I’ve been a student athlete. And I’m at where I’m at today because of the experiences that I’ve had, and I’m not going to apologize for that, I’m very proud of that.”

Q: “[South Carolina] Coach [Steve] Spurrier has put forward a plan to take some of the coaches’ salary and set up a fund for the players to help them with the cost of living, would you be open to a similar plan, and maybe even a different fund to help with long term health care?”

Fitz: “All I can deal with is facts, so I can’t speculate. That’s the law. Coach Spurrier and I are good friends, and I think I can say that’s a good idea.

“I will say this – and I’ll show this to our guys: We had dialogue in 2012 at the Big Ten office. They asked us to come with some positive change for student athletes. Dennis Springer, on our staff, recommended, ‘why don’t we put a trust fund together for guys, if they do well academically, to have them have money to transition out of college as they go through that phase before they get a job. We talked about that, we deliberated.

“I know the guys are looking for a voice. I believe in my track record that I’ve always been an advocate, and I look forward to always continuing to do that. That’s why I’m trying to educate our guys to understand that there’s other mechanisms, and I believe in them, I trust them, and I know they trust me.”

Q: “You can’t make promises, but how can you talk about it getting better? A lot of these ideas have been in the works and nothing has really come to fruition.”

Fitz: “I don’t know the agenda, so I can’t talk about all that. I can about the facts, and that’s what I’m doing. I can stand upon the things that I’ve talked about. I don’t want to speculate for our guys, I can’t do that, but I can say this: A year ago I was given a prime example of how change can happen. I was given a survey by our coaches association about recruiting rules. I brought it to our leadership council, I polled the council, I went to the Big Ten meetings, we had the dialogue, and our players’ voice was heard. I then go to the board of trustees’ meetings with the AFCA and meet with the NCAA; and I know – it’s a fact – that I advocated for our guys, I just was never asked.

“All of this can be handled with communication. I can’t speculate. The other side can speculate whatever they want. I can only deal in facts. I will deal in facts, and to me, it’s about trust. This is not a national issue with the NLRB, this is that organization against Northwestern, and I have to educate our guys on that. That’s what we’ll stick to, the facts.

“I look forward to unbelievable positive change. That’s why you get into teaching, that’s why you get into coaching. It’s the same thing as a parent, you’re an educator of life.”

Q: “Does the NCAA need to change at this point? Is it time for change?”

Fitz: “As you can see, over the summer I was a pretty big advocate for adding some things. My stance on all those things has been pretty clear.”

Q: “What’s next?” 

Fitz: “I’ll keep that between me and our players. Thanks for asking.”

Q: “You have a different approach than Kain Colter did, but was there any sense of pride in that he took a leadership role?”

Fitz: “Did you see the tweet I sent out about our guys when it happened? If you just look at the facts, and you look at the tweet – it was about support – I’m incredibly proud of the courageous nature of stepping up. I just do not believe this is the mechanism to do it. We do not need a third party in between our players and our coaching staff, our athletic department and our university.

“And I’ll stand upon our track record. As an educator, I don’t talk about potentially, I talk about facts, and that’s what we’ll continue to educate our guys on. And it’s not just about me, we’ll try to get every resource for our guys, and have dialogue with them, and whatever they need, we’ll get ‘em. I’m not going to promise them, I’m not going to threaten them, I’m going to educate them. That’s what I’ve done every single day and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

“Thanks a lot guys, I appreciate you being here. Go ‘Cats.”

From Siemian:

“I don’t support it. At this university, I’m really fortunate to be in the position I am, and I don’t think the union is the answer for my team or my university. I came here, coach Fitz recruited me, came into my house, and I believed in him and the school 100%. I’ve been treated unbelievably, far exceeding my expectations.

“What’s important for this team is being able to win a Big Ten championship. I don’t think a union can do it, and it might hurt us in that goal.”