Pat Fitzgerald won his first Big Ten football Coach of the Year award, the conference announced Tuesday afternoon. In his 13th season as Northwestern’s coach, Fitzgerald was unanimously voted the conference’s top coach, winning the media vote and the coaches vote.
Fitzgerald led Northwestern to its first-ever Big Ten West title and an 8-1 conference mark which is NU’s best Big Ten record since 1995. The Wildcats have also won 15 of 16 conference games.
Expectations weren’t particularly high for this Northwestern team after losing Justin Jackson and a couple key members of the secondary. Preseason media polls had NU finishing third in the Big Ten West, and ESPN pegged the Wildcats as the sixth-best team in the Big Ten. No one on our staff had Northwestern winning more than six Big Ten games.
Northwestern has fed off that lack of respect at times this season It also overcame the sudden retirement of Jeremy Larkin, the sluggish 1-3 start that coincided with Clayton Thorson’s pitch-count, and several critical injuries. The Wildcats earned three wins over ranked opponents and lost to No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 8 Michigan by a combined 13 points.
And to say Northwestern’s season has been a statistical anomaly would be an understatement. Most advanced metrics strongly underrate NU. But the Wildcats know how to hang around and give themselves the chance to win, and a lot of that can be tied to Fitzgerald and the culture he has instilled in Evanston over the past decade and a half.
Here’s the interview Fitzgerald did with BTN following the announcement: