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At long last, Northwestern's coaching staff has changed

The coaching staff had been the same for a loooooong time. What do these hires mean?

Music City Bowl - Kentucky v Northwestern Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It has been bemoaned on this very site. It's been a staple of the Northwestern football program for years, even a selling point. The commenters of this site have discussed it ad naueseam. This article won't be the last you hear of it.

No, Northwestern fans, you don't need to sound the alarms or go out partying in the streets. This isn't really what you wanted, I'm guessing.

But, in the year 2018, the streak is over. For the first time in eight seasons, Northwestern's coaching staff will feature some changes next fall.

Do not fear, coaching continuity isn't gone. Pat Fitzgerald isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Mick McCall, well, he's still the offensive coordinator. That's a topic for another day, since we know he's coming back next season. Mike Hankwitz is still running the defense.

But, for the first time in a long time, the NU coaching staff will have some new faces. Jerry Brown, the defensive backs coach and a Northwestern lifer, has retired after 25 years. Randy Bates, the linebackers coach, has accepted the defensive coordinator job at Pitt.

The Bates news is significant. The coaching staff, unchanged for the past seven seasons, was a sign of stability. Stability in programs is undoubtedly a good thing; it resonates with recruits, and it allows time for philosophies and long-term processes to unfold. The negative to that continuity, however, was that assistants weren't getting better jobs.

The top programs in college football lose assistants all the time for promotions elsewhere — it's an indicator of success, in a way. Hankwitz was probably the most deserving of a promotion, but, as someone in the later stages of his career, he wasn't leaving.

Bates' departure to the Steel City is deserved, and, while it could adversely impact the Wildcats in the short-term, is a good sign. His replacement hasn't been announced yet, but, regardless of who it ends up being, the fact that there's an opening of that nature represents growth.

Given Brown's retirement and Bates's exit, Fitzgerald had three spots to fill due to coaching staffs being expanded to 10 this offseason. He quickly tabbed two familiar faces to fill two of the openings; the hirings of Lou Ayeni and Tim McGarigle, both of whom played for Northwestern, were reported days apart earlier this month.

Ayeni had previously coached running backs at Iowa State, the position he'll take over on Fitzgerald's staff. He'll also be the recruiting coordinator, which is an important role. His hiring moves running backs coach Matt MacPherson to special teams and cornerbacks coach.

McGarigle most recently served as the Green Bay Packers' defensive quality control coach under Mike McCarthy and will coach the safeties at NU. He recorded an FBS-record 545 tackles as a linebacker during his time in Evanston (tackles became an official stat in 2000), so he should be able to help alleviate the loss of Bates, at least to a degree. Once Fitzgerald hires someone to replace Bates's spot on the staff, the specific defensive jobs should clarify themselves.

The Packers wanted to retain McGarigle, so it seems like a good hire from the outside.

It's hard to say just how successful both Ayeni and McGarigle will be, but both are well-respected coaches who played at Northwestern, further exemplifying the "football family" mantra Fitzgerald has preached for years.

On a larger level, it's probably a good thing that there are some new voices and new roles on the staff. Changing things up from time to time is necessary, even after a 10-win season. The changes to Fitzgerald's staff were by no means sweeping ones, but they were still changes, which is meaningful for a program that hasn't transformed at all in that area in the last several seasons.

As far as offseason football storylines go, the coaching shifts are certainly secondary to an impending quarterback competition after Clayton Thorson's serious knee injury. But it’s still a noteworthy development. For the first time in eight years, Northwestern’s coaching staff will look a little different this offseason.

And despite how great Brown and Bates were during their time in Evanston, that might just be a good thing.