Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald addressed the media Wednesday with optimism, hope, and a healthy amount of Fitzism’s as the team heads into the bulk of its August training camp.
While Fitz did not announce a starting quarterback (shocker), he did provide a little more insight as to what he’s looking for in a guy under center. He also addressed several other topics regarding the state of the program in terms of internal and external expectations Here are the main highlights from his press conference:
Fitz began the session with praise for his team’s physical and mental state to begin camp: “The guys came back in phenomenal shape. It has changed a lot in my 14 years here where guys would disappear a little bit… But to see the way the team came back and paid attention mentally is outstanding.”
When asked if he had a criteria when picking his starting quarterback beside which QB, Fitz responded: “First of all, a guy that can execute the offense, a guy that can take care of the football, a guy that when he walks on the field the other ten guys on offense, they believe in him, they believe that he’s gonna lead us down to be consistent from a standpoint of offensive execution and...a guy that we believe is going to be able to help lead us to a championship.”
When discussing the impact of new offensive line coach Kurt Anderson in comparison to former offensive line coach Adam Cushing who left for Eastern Illinois, Fitz stated “One guy is a University of Chicago grad and very pragmatic and very systems and phenomenal and absolutely terrific, and the other guy is like a WWE wrestler. So both guys are great and they’re both terrific teachers and both great coaches and great mentors.
I think the guys have gravitated to [Anderson} really well and any time there’s a position change the first thing that has to happen is the building of relationships. Kurt’s done a great job and has been borderline relentless in building those relationships with the guys.”
When asked about the national expectations for the team, Fitz said “With winning 36 games in the last four years, I think that puts us 14th in the country...Those that don’t cover us weekly or monthly or cover the Big Ten, they kind of define our team based on a handful of games and they were all losses.
Multiple Duke losses, loss to Western Michigan, loss to Illinois State, loss to Akron last year, that ends up being our national narrative which I told the team ‘if you want to change the narrative you need to go out and earn it’... we can’t have those [losses] if we want to be a team that gets national recognition and national respect but that’s not given, that’s earned, and we understand we’re in control of all of those things.“
When asked about the perception behind Hunter Johnson having won the NU’ starting job, Fitz stated “The reality is it’s a battle. It’s funny I was saying at the kickoff luncheon it was interesting, the Big Ten announced our starting quarterback at the luncheon. I didn’t know we announced that so I appreciated them doing that but I think everyone in our program knows that the battle is ongoing.”
On Jeremy Larkin’s role with the coaching staff: “He’s been phenomenal, he’s in early, he stays late, he’s been a great asset to Coach Ayeni and the running back room… I don’t want to speak for the guys but I think he’s been an awesome, awesome student coach for the players, a guy who has been there, done it, things of that nature.
I think he really relates well. He’s gonna be a phenomenal coach, he attacks I guess every day as a coach the same way he did every day as a player, he’s got a bright future there’s no question in that.”
When speaking on expectations for the season and how the team will approach the daunting early season schedule, Fitz said “First of all, the expectations externally are not even close to the expectations internally. We don’t hide from the facts that we want to win the Big Ten West, win the Big Ten, and earn our opportunity to go where we believe our program should be.”
I’m not sure any team in our program’s history has had that type of opportunity coming out of the gate to start the season. You want to earn it by playing the best teams you possibly can and you know the way the season sets up for us here in the first couple of months of the season is going to be a daunting challenge.”
In comparison to past teams, Fitz raved about this years defense:
“I think that [older] group is really doing a great job taking those younger guys under their wing… It’s another thing to really invest greatly in your teammates and create a rock solid brotherhood for when you face adversity and that’s what I am seeing across the board in our squad.”
When discussing his offensive line, Fitz spoke highly of the group: “I like the attitude of the group, I love the leadership with Jared [Thomas] right now. I think Kurt is imposing his personality and his standards in the room that will be a work in progress throughout the year.”
On the depth in the secondary: “I think it’s outstanding. I think it might be the best we’ve had... I am excited about that group, I am really excited about it.”
Update on kickers: “I hope we never have to go through what we went through a year ago where unfortunately we have multiple injuries at the kicker position and then we’ve got a punter whose kicking a field goal for the first time since high school.
Charlie’s back full speed and I think that really helps a lot and same thing with punting. Dan Kubiak is back full speed...We are much healthier at this point than we were an overwhelming majority of last year.”
Here is the link to Fitz’s full press conference: