Pat Fitzgerald spoke for 15 minutes at the podium to open his time at Big Ten Media Days, and then for another 15 minutes off camera. Here's what he had to say:
- Fitzgerald said it was "amazing, shocking and surreal," and "humbling" to be heading into his 10th season as a Big Ten coach.
- Fitzgerald said he was "emotionally drained" after a night with his teammates from the 1995 Rose Bowl team. He hasn't shared much about the Rose Bowl reunion with his current team, but he will.
- Fitzgerald said Jim Harbaugh asked him to come speak at a camp in June.
- Fitzgerald on how the Big Ten's perception gets defined: "You have four weeks worth of evaluation from a national perspective based on head to head matchup games with power five teams. And then we'll go through the Big Ten gauntlet. And then we'll have that same evaluation happen in the postseason."
- It took nine minutes for someone to ask a question about the quarterback situation, and Fitzgerald said he was surprised it took that long. He said there was no separation, or not enough separation, in spring ball.
- Fitzgerald said part of the quarterback competition would be "off the field evaluation." He also said he and offensive coordinator Mick McCall will consult other seniors on the offense before making a decision.
- Fitzgerald on how the fact that recruiting is starting earlier and earlier affects the way in which he deals with Northwestern's academic standards: "It used to be the fifth semester transcript. Now you're getting the fourth and third semester transcript. And that's a pretty good early indicator of where the young person is going to be academically.
But from our standpoint, we can't talk about admission status until after the sixth semester on our campus. So it's the old risk/reward for us from the standpoint of if the kid fits our profile after three semesters of high school, we've got to put him on our list now initially.
So maybe where five, ten years ago our pool was really tight and really small, now as you're looking at that sophomore class, you can't be too quick to judge and too quick to evaluate because at least for our admissions standards, there's at least half of their academic credentials ahead of them."
- Fitzgerald on recruiting: "I have a real hard time doing a character evaluation of a young man who doesn't have a [driver's] license yet."
- Fitzgerald ended his session with "Go 'Cats." I realized that he did not end our Q&A on Wednesday with "Go 'Cats." CONTROVERSY.
- Fitzgerald says solving Northwestern's explosive play problem is going to come down to personnel, not a scheme change.
- Fitzgerald on the importance of the Duke and Stanford games for recruiting: "We've put together the blueprint from a scheduling standpoint for an number of years. We've tried to go and play academic comparables: Vanderbilt, Boston College, Notre Dame, Stanford, Duke, Rice, Cal."
"If we're going to win on the recruiting trail, we have to win on the field. Most of our guys looked at [Duke and Stanford] schools too. And we know a lot of guys on both of their rosters."
- Fitzgerald said he and athletic director Jim Phillips both have a hand in scheduling, and that he "appreciates" Phillips allowing him to be involved.
- I asked Fitzgerald if he regretted having Stanford as the opener, as opposed to the third or fourth game, because he'll be breaking in a new starting quarterback. He said he didn't. "When you set the schedule back however many years ago, you can't predict where your roster is going to be."
- Fitzgerald says one of his and his staff's focuses has been winning close games, and he said it'll be the subject of one of his presentations to the team in camp:
"We've looked hard at why we've not won the close games over the last two years. The calling card of my 10 years is we've won the overwhelming majority of close games. I think 10 of our 12 games last year were in the fourth quarter as a one- or two-score game. The bottom line is, we're going to be in those games, and we've got to do the little things."
If Fitz’s "10 of our 12 games were 1- or 2-score games" line is supposed to fit the close games narrative, it's really, really dumb— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) July 31, 2015
That 10 would include the Western Ill. game, the Nebraska game, and the Illinois game… https://t.co/vc7Xq5BuYi— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) July 31, 2015
#Northwestern really only played four close games last year, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, and went 2-2 in those games— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) July 31, 2015
NIU and Cal were fringe close games, but not really. Those were both teams NU should’ve beaten, but instead fell way behind— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) July 31, 2015
- Fitzgerald again hinted at the union being a distraction: "We've had some semblance of normalcy this offseason, and I really like where the guys are at. Our chemistry is in a good spot. I like how we're holding each other accountable again and talking about things related to our team and football."
- Fitzgerald: "I just think we've made way too many self-inflicted errors that have cost us, and as a coach, that makes you want to jump off the tower at Ryan Field, because that's on us as coaches."
- I asked Fitzgerald if there was any chance the quarterback competition could carry into the season. "I would really prefer that that would not happen," he said. "I would prefer that we have some semblance of separation." He noted that playing both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian wasn't an ongoing competition, it was that they had decided that both had a role in the offense.
- Fitzgerald on the differences between the three quarterbacks: "Two of the three guys [Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti] from a skillset standpoint, are very similar. And then Zack [Oliver] is a little bit more traditional. He can run around a little bit, but I don't think he runs as well as Trevor, when Trevor was healthy."
- Fitzgerald was enthusiastic when speaking about sophomore superback Garrett Dickerson. "I really think that Garrett Dickerson is coming on," he said. "He's a guy that has big play potential... He's had a great offseason. I mean, he's been terrific. I've been very impressed by him."