If you think that the historically slow start to the season that the Wildcats have suffered through is an indicator of future struggles for the program, Pat Fitzgerald would beg to differ. The longtime Northwestern head man was eager to tell the media on Monday what he thought about the future of his program.
“We’ll get this thing turned around. I have a track record of winning football games, I have a track record of that,” Fitzgerald said. “I know it’s not happening right now and I’m incredibly disappointed. But for the future, and 2020 and beyond, we will be back.”
Getting that kind of statement out of Fitz is a fairly rare occurrence. He is typically steadfast in his reluctance to talk about the future of the program in his press conferences. Fitz is a coach that will almost always talk just about the week prior and the week ahead, and nothing else. But that was not the case today.
Showing his frustrations about the state of a Northwestern program that has endured its worst start in the Fitzgerald era (by a wide margin), the head coach made sure to note on multiple occasions that he will have the program back where it needs to be on the field soon, despite his and his team’s current struggles.
He acknowledged both fans’ disappointment and his own when it comes to the team’s success on Saturdays, but made sure to say that the gameday performances are only “two percent” of the equation for this team.
“Everything else in our program is A+ right now, everything Monday through Friday and Sunday is humming along,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s the wrong two percent that isn’t working right now.”
Northwestern’s leader believes, however, that the current problems represent only a brief interruption of the success his team has enjoyed in recent years.
“I’m focused on winning these next four games right now, but I promise you we will be back.”
Part of the logic behind Fitz’s confidence lies in a recruiting class that will have a chance to come in and instantly compete for playing time. Though Fitz would never discuss recruiting rankings or stars, the team’s 2020 class is currently ranked 31st in the nation with an average rating of .87. In other words, it might be the best recruiting class that Fitzgerald has ever brought to Evanston.
The 14-year head coach even said as much when asked about how he thinks his team will rectify the depth concerns he has discussed over the past few weeks: “Getting our guys back and healthy will be helpful for that, of course, and I’m fired up about our recruiting class....if I’m those guys I’m excited to get here. I’d be saying to myself ‘Hell yeah, I’m gonna play.’”
During a year that has been marred by injuries, losses and everything in between, it was a breath of fresh air to see Fitz so fired up on Monday — he brought an energy and assertive tone that hasn’t always been present in pressers up to this point. These press conferences have been largely filled with odd jokes, rants, and defiance to this point.
That being said, it’s nice to get a bit of a reminder that the most important person in the program is committed and confident about its future. It may just be lip service, but that doesn’t mean those words are meaningless.
Coaching changes may and should be on the way at the end of this season, but there is still a belief from the man at the top that Northwestern will get back to its odds-defying seasons of the past, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
For now, there’s a third of the 2019 schedule remaining, and NU could sure use some momentum toward the future.