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Pat Fitzgerald on Josh Rosen’s remarks, Peyton Manning’s message to his team

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Fitz talked to the traveling BTN crew and also spoke on a variety of matters after practice.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Days
Fitz at media days
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this month, UCLA quarterback and first round NFL prospect Josh Rosen made some comments about life as a student and football player.

Football and school don’t go together. They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs.

Rosen’s comments sparked plenty of conversation while causing a bit of controversy. Yesterday, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former star player himself, gave his thoughts on the matter with a crew from the Big Ten Network, which was in Evanston making its final stop on a conference tour.

After mentioning Northwestern’s seven straight years as No. 1 or No. 2 in APR, BTN host Dave Revsine said “I’m sure you’ve heard, there was a prominent west coast quarterback who said that he believes football and school do not go together. What do you make of comments like that?”

“Well, you know I’m always going to respect people for their opinion,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know his perspective; I have mine. I believe you can [do it]. I think number one, you have to come from a family that values education and an upbringing where that’s a priority. Number two, you’ve gotta be recruited to the right program. We recruit young men that fit our program, that are high academics, that want a great degree form a great school and look at it as a 40 or 50 year decision, not just the next four or five years.”

“I remember this vividly, my high school coach telling me ‘you need to use the game of football, do not let the game use you’. As you go on to the college environment, that’s gotta be your priority, and I’ll be the first to tell you, my first two years here, I wasn’t that guy. I had a great time and I earned every C- that I got. And then I figured it out and I graduated here and I was able to get into grad school...We’ve got, I believe 18 young men that have graduated, double digits that are in graduate school.

“You as a student athlete need to control what you do in college,” Fitzgerald said. “I believe you can do it and you can do it at a very high level.”

Post-practice quotes from Fitz

On Tuesday’s visit from Peyton Manning: “We started a relationship at the Citrus Bowl and we’ve kind of always stayed in touch. Obviously that went to a higher level when Trevor [Siemian] went to the Broncos. It was just real fortunate. He was coming to town for some things that he was doing here over the next couple of days and he was gracious enough to visit with our quarterbacks, with our staff and with the team last night. Absolutely amazing. Hall of Famer, could go down as one of, if not the best ever, and his humility was just absolutely inspiring and his message is right on.”

On Manning’s message to the team: “It was about being a pro and how you prepare and the way you do things and how you should carry yourself and how you should be a teammate. And the things that he did to continually improve every year that he played this game, I mean he went and showed the quarterbacks video from him in high school that the same thing he did his last year. You just can’t get bored of things that work. He said ‘I did this over-the-bag drill for 20 years and I only jumped over one guy one time in 20 years.’ So it was just really great and I’m thankful for his friendship, his humility and his willingness to share.”

On Walter Athletic Center: “First off we’re very thankful to the administration. We’re very thankful to the Walter family, and Ryan family and the Wilson’s, the list goes on and on. To the Hutcheson’s and to the Martin’s, it’s just a special group of families that is making this happen and we’re excited. You can see the future of our program, I think it shows the commitment from the University and the direction we’re headed.”

“It’s changed a lot. But I think for the better and obviously it gives us the opportunity to train our guys in a world-class venue. It gives us proximity and integration on campus. And obviously from a recruiting standpoint, we go from where we’re currently at to probably one of the top facilities in the country.”

On bringing the athletic community together: “Again, we’re just thankful for the commitment from the University and the opportunity for us to be integrated. We’re the front porch, we get it, what we do and how we do things as a football program can be a great barometer of where we’re at as a university. And to see where things have headed from us without this - we’ve been a consistent winner but now to have it - could be a catalyst to a big step forward and that’s what’s exciting.”

On excitement to move in to Walter Athletic Center: “I’m really excited for the guys. A brand new locker room with state-of-the-art recovery and athletic training space that gives us a chance to keep our guys healthy and safe, a weight training facility with a view that’s second to none with a view that feeds right into an indoor that is I think three-times the size of the one that we currently have. And then the connectivity here to our outdoor space. We go from really being one field to three fields out here. Just all the things we need to take the next steps in the Big Ten and we’re just incredibly thankful for the commitment from the University and from our incredibly generous families that are making it happen.”

On potential for freshmen to contribute immediately: “We got a week to go before we get to that point but I would say the group came in ready to compete in the summer. I talked to them, it’s not a different message than I’ve had when I’ve signed guys. You need to compete to come here to play or I promise you, you will redshirt yourself. It’s the same message I’ve said every year and I think this group really took it to heart. They’ve really worked hard and I’m very very pleased with we’re they’re at. So that will play out, but very pleased with where the group is at.”

Specifically on Rashawn Slater and Sam Miller: “Rashawn [Slater] is a very talented, athletic young man. His dad [Reginald Slater] is an NBA player and his mom, I mean just a very very special family. He came in with an outstanding pedigree from a standpoint of he understands what it means to prepare. And to watch the way he’s gone out and competed, he has not backed down. I’ve been very impressed.”

And you know Sam [Miller] got here early. Early graduate, early enrollee, him and Trey Pugh. I think that really benefitted them. And do I anticipate that happening more in the future? I hope so. If guys are willing to do it and mature enough to do it I’d love to do it. But those two guys, it helped them being here early.”

On team energy and chemistry: “I think a little bit unique maybe to everybody else in the conference, we don’t start school now for another four weeks. With that being said, we don’t want next week to be like training camp. We want it to be game week. And so today was kind of our real last hard training camp practice, we’ll have our mock game tomorrow, and we’ll get going on gameplan Friday and Saturday and at least give our guys the first snapshot of what we’re doing next week. And then we’ll be into our normal game week. We won’t keep them very long after practice next week, just want to get into our normal game week routine and get the guys stoked up for 2:30 on Saturday. I’m going to enjoy Wrigley on Saturday and Zac Brown [Brand], so a week from now I’ll be ready to go.

On No. 9 rank in ESPN’s Fan Happiness Index: “I think the momentum carried over from our bowl win, and then obviously the job that Chris and his young men and his program did. You know, we haven’t had that ever, so that was kind of cool. Nobody enjoyed that more than me. And then a great run by our women’s golf team and Spence, Spencer Allen and our baseball team getting into the Big Ten Championship game. There’s other teams too, I’m just highlighting a few. Northwestern is a winner, and the narrative has changed since when I was in high school and I think it’s exciting and a lot of fun, and I think our fans are stoked about that. I guess being ranked ninth gives me motivation to move forward, we got eight spots to go.”

On players’ focus: “I think the guys are really focused on what they have to do to get prepared for today. I think their focus is kind of singular right now. I’m sure when the students get back on campus they’ll feel that excitement, but we’ve kind of been by ourselves now for nine weeks, six weeks of summer school and then camp. So I’m excited to get to game week and see how we play in the opener.”

On advantages of being in Evanston over the summer: “You eliminate distractions, and you end up being able to focus on football which is fun.”