This story has been updated to reflect new information that has been released after the time it was originally published.
In the 54 hours following The Daily Northwestern’s release of a report that detailed allegations of sexual hazing, the world heard little from Northwestern University.
That all changed on Monday night, when Northwestern parted ways with head coach Pat Fitzgerald according to Matt Fortuna of The Athletic, among other sources. After 17 seasons coaching the Wildcats, Fitzgerald will not return to the sidelines as the team’s leader.
A few hours later, Rittenberg reported that defensive coordinator David Braun, who took the job this offseason after serving in the same role at North Dakota State, will serve as a “liaison” while Northwestern determines who it will name as an interim head coach.
On Jan. 11, Northwestern hired ArentFox Schiff to open an investigation into claims of alleged hazing by a former player. Last Friday, July 7, after almost six months, ArentFox Schiff and the university released an executive summary of the report, which concluded that hazing occurred in the Northwestern program. The investigation found no evidence that Fitzgerald had known about the hazing, but emphasized “there had been significant opportunities to discover and report the hazing conduct.”
Consequently, Fitzgerald initially received a two-week, unpaid suspension on Friday.
“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team,” Fitzgerald said on Friday after his initial two week suspension. “Although I was not aware of the alleged incidents, I have spoken to University officials, and they informed me of a two-week suspension, effective immediately.”
“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University,” Fitzgerald said. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”
On Saturday night, in the hours following The Daily Northwestern’s report of a former player claiming that the hazing consisted of sexually and emotionally abusive activities, President Michael Schill issued a statement to the Northwestern community that noted he “may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction for Coach Fitzgerald.”
Schill also said of Fitzgerald: “As the head coach of one of our athletics programs, Coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program but also must take great care to uphold our institutional commitment to the student experience and our priority to ensure all students — undergraduate and graduate — can thrive during their time at Northwestern.
“Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction.”
The same night, multiple current Northwestern players — including tight end Marshall Lang and quarterback Ryan Hilinski — expressed their support of Fitzgerald and his character through social media.
More information — particularly confirmation of the hazing by a recent former NU player and allegations of racism by three former players — was released in the next 48 hours. Ultimately, that culminated in Fitzgerald’s departure early Monday evening.
A few hours after the announcement, Fitzgerald issued a statement. He emphasized his confidence in the positive effect that he and the Northwestern program had on student-athletes, stating that the majority of players — “99%, to be precise” — gave him “positive feedback that affirms [Fitzgerald and Northwestern’s] efforts.”
He also noted he was “surprised” that Schill terminated his employment, and said that he will rely on his agent, Bryan Harlan, and his legal counsel, Dan Webb of Winston & Strawn LLP, to “take the necessary steps to protect [his] rights in accordance with the law.”
Since taking over as Northwestern’s head coach in 2006, Fitzgerald has been the most successful coach in program history. In addition to topping the record boards in all-time wins by a coach, Fitzgerald led the Wildcats to two Big Ten West championships and five bowl game wins in 10 appearances, most recently the Citrus Bowl in the 2020 season.
The Wildcats have since suffered two consecutive losing seasons, combining for four wins over the last two years to go along with 20 losses. The defeats on the field, however, are nothing compared to the controversy that the team has faced off the field in recent days.
Northwestern will begin its search for a new head coach less than two months before the start of the 2023 football season.