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David Braun Big Ten Media Days Press Conference Notes

The ‘Cats’ head coach spoke for the first time since being elevated from defensive coordinator.

Big Ten Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Northwestern interim head coach David Braun addressed reporters for the inaugural time as the team’s leader. Braun spoke at the main podium for 15 minutes, answering only four questions. Later in the day, Braun talked to media for 45 minutes at a side podium. From his knowledge of the team’s hazing allegations to becoming a Power Five head coach to how the Wildcats will attempt to move forward, here are the transcripts — edited for clarity and concision — of what Braun shared.

Main Presser

Opening statement: “Good morning. I’d like to open by first off thanking my family back home: my wife Kristin, our 8-year-old son Lucas, and 6-year-old son Andrew. Interesting timing: my wife is due with our third, a little girl, any day now, so a lot of things going on at the Braun house right now. But they have been an absolute rock over the course of the last couple of weeks. And I certainly want to acknowledge everything that she has going on at home. Secondly, I want to thank our players, our staff and all their families. They have responded in this time with exceptional work ethic, resolve, perseverance, through an incredibly difficult time.

“In all my one on one meetings, time with our players during workouts, it has been absolutely inspiring. It is an honor to be here representing Northwestern University, our football program, and most importantly, our players back in Evanston preparing to have a successful season this fall. I never could have imagined, nor did I desire, to become a head coach under these types of circumstances. That said, I’m honored to lead this group moving forward.

“With a dad from Ohio, born in the north suburbs of Chicago, and moving to Wisconsin in elementary school, my childhood was filled with Big Ten football. Watching Northwestern games with dad, many Saturdays in Camp Randall rooting on the Badgers, it was part of my life. It was part of my memories with my dad; we won’t acknowledge who my dad roots for. We’ve had a very clear understanding that he’ll be rooting for the ‘Cats moving forward.

“But, there was a great deal of appreciation built up for what Big Ten football is the ultimate student-athlete experience. Top-notch academics and high-end football on Saturdays. Prioritizing the student-athlete experience, I dreamt of playing in the Big Ten. That never became a reality, but an opportunity to work in the Big Ten, coach in the Big Ten and coach and mentor these young men is something that I don’t take lightly. I vividly remember in 1995 watching Northwestern beat ninth-ranked Notre Dame — incredible. It still sticks with me to this day. The following year, I’m sitting in the stands with a childhood friend watching Northwestern take on Wisconsin. In improbable circumstances, Ron Dayne fumbles with under a minute left to go. A few plays later, to find Steve Schnur connects with Dwayne Bates on a double move, and one of the most improbable Northwestern wins in Northwestern history.

“Again, this opportunity is a dream come true to be a part of Big Ten football. I say all this to say that when Coach Fitz offered our family the opportunity to come to Northwestern back in January. And I started work on Jan. 16 of this year. My wife and I had to pinch ourselves: an opportunity to coordinate in the Big Ten, to work for a man like Coach Fitz, to be close to my family in Wisconsin, to be a part of the Big Ten, and the opportunity to mentor young men that value what Northwestern stands for — a world-class education, competing on the biggest stage in college football. This obviously has been a very difficult time for our team, our staff, our current and former players impacted, our alumni, the university. and the broader Northwestern community.”

“I am grateful to the Northwestern leadership and Dr. Gragg for entrusting me with leading this program moving forward. The circumstances surrounding our family’s opportunity and being elevated the interim head coach were not dream-like scenarios, but they have done one thing. They have crystallized our family’s purpose. Kristin and I truly believe that football is the ultimate vehicle to have a positive impact on young men. Our number one priority moving forward will be ensuring that the student-athlete experience for the young men that we coach and mentor is just that: the ultimate student-athlete experience. With the evolving landscape of college football, and there being more emphasis put into talent acquisition, transactional relationships, we have an opportunity to firmly commit to the values of Northwestern University, to firmly commit to what this program has been built off of — and that is the holistic development of the young men that we mentor and coach.

“I told our players a couple of weeks ago, moving forward, it is my ultimate purpose to, number one, make sure that the four people back home are taken care of. Beyond that, I’m here to support and serve them moving forward. Through one-on-one meetings with the majority of our team, I have found a team that has come together that truly loves one another and has an incredible resolve to attack the 2023 season and write their own story about overcoming adversity. Let me be clear, this football team will be ready to go. I look forward to coming together as a team, a staff and athletic administration, a university, an alumni base, a fan base to fully support these student athletes as they go make us all proud moving forward.”

Now to talk some football. Very excited about what we have coming back on the offensive side of the ball. There’s a great deal of depth at all positions. The loss of Peter Skoronski on the O-line will certainly be a big hit. But, I truly believe under offensive staff, our O-line, has a chance to show that depth, play with depth, and find ways to establish the run in the big Ten. The tight end group is one of the deeper tight end groups I’ve been around, and that’s saying a lot after coming from North Dakota State. Excited about our running back room and the return of Cam Porter. Armon Binns, our wide receiver coach, has done a tremendous job getting this wide receiver group to a point where we feel like we can really lean on the depth in that room to utilize the passing game. The quarterback battle will be something that will be fun to see as the fall moves forward. The addition of Ben Bryant, the return of Brendan Sullivan, and a young man from the south side of Chicago, Jack Lausch, will provide a great deal of competition and fall camp.”

“Defensively, we look forward to a D-line room that Coach [Christian] Smith has done a great job of building through some transfers and the development of a young group with a great deal of talent. A veteran linebacker room, a ton of depth in the safety room. And an athletic corner room that’s inexperienced, but has a great leader in Garnett Hollis, as we move forward. Special teams will continue to play a critical role in finding ways to win on Saturdays for Northwestern.

“At the end of the day, and one of the first things that we did as a staff in the last couple of days, was having an opportunity to sit down and have an honest conversation about how we’re going to win football games at Northwestern this year. And, it’s not going to just be our defense. It won’t just be our offense. It’s going to require complementary football that puts us into situations to win in the fourth quarter. Again, let me be clear: through all these one-on-one meetings, and seeing our team the last two weeks, I firmly believe that this group has a demeanor, has a brotherhood and a resolve. There is a reason to be very excited about the story that they will write this fall. With that said, I’ll open it up to questions.

On finding out he was the new Northwestern head coach, and having the trust of his players: “It’s all been very emotional. Highs and lows. But to know that our family has the full support of our players means everything to Kristin and I and our staff. It’s a special group of young men.”

On assistant coaches Matt MacPherson and Jay Hooten being named in lawsuits filed: “I won’t speak to the current allegations. Fully trust that our university is going through a process and will make decisions based on the facts. What I can speak to is how proud I am of the way that our team has come together with all this stuff floating around our football team. There’s absolute resolve and confidence from our leadership within our team of how we’re going to more forward.”

On his message to the team: “The first thing that I told them was that it was my responsibility moving forward to give them clarity and direction. My intent was to be there to support and serve them moving forward. I challenged the group. A lot of people have been impacted by decisions made over the course of the last couple weeks. Our guys right now in that facility are going through a lot. We have an opportunity to either run from that, or an opportunity to truly stare that adversity in the face, stare it down, and go attack this opportunity to make this fall an incredible story that truly embodies what this team’s all about. I’ve challenged them with that, and I can say that they have responded to that challenge in an absolutely inspiring fashion.”

Side Presser

On recent events: “We knew the move was going to be a whirlwind for sure. What we’ve experienced the last two weeks, never could’ve anticipated something like this. An opportunity for me to be grateful for my wife, and what she stands for. Really just leaning back into a great reminder of why we do what we do. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have some incredible challenges put in front of me. Been out of my comfort zone at times, many times, and that’s where a lot of growth has come. I’ve never been this far outside my comfort zone before. And like I’ve said before, the thing that continues to fuel me is, the time with our players in the way that they’ve responded.”

On conversations with players: “To be clear, I haven’t talked with every single guy on our roster; we’re still working through a few, but a vast majority, yes. They’ve been an open conversation, an invitation for them to really share with me what they’re experiencing, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and just getting to know these guys — know who they are. And it has had nothing to do with football. I have not asked them any questions about anything related to before I arrived, but we have put together a path of how we’re going to move forward. But most importantly, just really trying to meet these guys where they’re at, and make sure that there’s clear expectations of how we’re gonna move forward.

“Again, I think it just really comes back to meeting them where they’re at. And a lot of, you know, in the world that we live in, it’s constantly evolving, and you’re riding this roller coaster of emotion. I’m not saying that I’ve been perfect in this at all. But you’ve heard me say it many times. I’ll continue to say it: I walk into that facility or hop on a phone, or even a text message. Is this supporting our players? Is this serving our players? That’s what I’m here for right now. And I tried to do my best to do just that.”

On his play-calling duties: “Let me be clear, if this was January, we would hire a defensive coordinator immediately. Due to the context, the timing of the situation and putting our defensive players at the forefront of that decision-making process, I plan to call the defense. And that’s just comes from a standpoint, we’ve put a great deal of effort into spring ball. I’ve been fortunate to be calling this defense for quite a long time. I want to make sure that as many people in our facility that can stay in a normal routine that we established in spring; we can keep them moving forward in that direction. It’s going to require my best in terms of creating a rhythm and a routine for fall camp and then a rhythm and a routine for the season, something that I’ve never experienced. It’s going to require that I really lean on wisdom from those that have experience as head coaches to partner with me and help me navigate this.

“I think if I were to identify some of my strengths as a defensive play-caller, I think I’ve learned from from my mentors that you want to create a collaborative environment in the defensive staff room. In my time at North Dakota State, I saw it at its best what it looks like to have a player-led football team in terms of just true investment in what you’re doing defensively, and making sure that there’s dialogue, investment and involvement from your players. I think I have a skill for identifying what our players do well, and then really leaning into that.

“What we built in the spring was very much based off of North Dakota State influence. Maybe some of the things that Coach [Mike] Hankwitz had done, that our guys were very comfortable with that fit in terms of winning in the Big Ten. And then some things that I’ve mentioned that were really working for Jim O’Neil’s defense, and those guys situationally that our guys are comfortable with and had recently installed. Let’s check our egos at the door; I mean, what’s going to help us win football games? The evolution of that will be identifying as this team has grown over the course of the summer, how we need to tweak that.

“In terms of our defensive staff, we do plan on bringing in a defensive assistant. We’re in a difficult situation. It’s going to take a special person that’s going to say, ‘I’m going to leave my job, and I’m going to run, I’m going to run to the fire.’ This person better put the student-athlete as their top priority, better show up and not pretend to have a bunch of answers or solutions of what we’re going through. Meet these guys where they’re at, listen to them and build a quality relationship. And then be there to just make sure that our staff that’s currently in place can continue to stay in a rhythm or routine that we created over the spring.”

On how he’s processed arduous times: “I thought I was running to my ultimate dream job that I hoped to be in until Fitz retired. Honestly, I didn’t think I was running to the fire; I thought I was being blessed with the incredible opportunity to really fulfill a lifelong dream of coaching in the Big Ten and working for a man that prioritized the holistic development of young men and prioritized time with family. And I’ve been thrust into the fire. I’ve leaned on my faith a great deal.

“And I truly believe that in my journey and our family’s journey, the Lord has marked my steps from a standpoint of putting me in situations that have prepared me for this situation. And it doesn’t mean it’s easy. That doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out. I’ve admitted our players, ‘Guys, I will stumble along the way.’ But as long as we keep reading back into [what] I spoke of and making sure that they’re at the forefront of our priorities. I truly believe that this team is going to do great things this fall.

On moving ahead without neglecting the past: “It seems like a really difficult exercise. It is. I’m open to suggestions. I think first off and foremost, and I know I’m becoming repetitive, but our guys just need to know that they’re supported. Yes, it is absolutely critical that we prepare ourselves to go beat Rutgers. But we have no chance of doing that if our guys just don’t feel supported right now. And at some point over the course of fall camp, whether that be report date, or August 15 or August 24, at some point, there needs to be a very clear line of, ‘Guys, we’ve been through a lot, but it’s time to put it in the rearview mirror. It’s time to go win football games.’ And if I know anything about this group, they’re looking forward to that conversation and making sure that sooner than later, this group can’t get can’t wait to get back to football.”

On players electing not to speak at Media Days: “It was a very open discussion, but it was led by an understanding that we were going to support those young men in whatever decision they made. They were thoughtful. There was open conversation. To be honest with you, there was a conversation about, ‘Coach, we know who we are. We know what we stand for. We can tell a story about our teammates and what we plan on doing. We want to go tell that story.’ But in a very fluid situation that was evolving, I think they felt like it was in the best interest of the team to put their focus solely on preparing for fall camp.”

On if he asked players about what happened during their tenures: “Anything related to pending litigation, I’m staying away from.”

On why no Northwestern administrators have spoken: “We have been solely focused on our players. Dr. Gragg has been incredibly supportive. He’s here today. He and I spoke at length. When the announcement was made, our team found out that Coach Fitz was no longer going to be our head coach. My push, number one, checked on our players; number two, had a staff meeting to check on our staff. We were on vacation, guys. I told our staff, I wanted to honor that vacation. So it was a difficult scenario to navigate.

“But as many of our staff that we could get together, we got together, and I asked them what they needed, what they really need from me, and what do they need from the administration. And as I had opportunities to meet with the administration, I simply asked that they work diligently with me to provide clarity for our staff. With that clarity, an opportunity to then just just just go support our players. I will say that Dr. Gragg, and the rest of the athletic administration, have done a great job of answering those questions and providing clarity so that myself and the rest of the staff can go lead.”

On if he’s had discussions about better protecting players: “Absolutely. It will be at the forefront of every decision that we have moving forward. We’ve had general conversations about that those that can be found in conversations with our university leadership. We’re still working through what many of those things are already in place. As the leader of our program, I’m still working through what that looks like from a day-to-day basis. But as I referred to, in my opening comments, the student-athlete experience is what this is all about, and we need to make sure that the way that we operate is ensuring that that is an experience that our guys chose to come to Northwestern for. That’s the best of both worlds. That’s a world-class education, it’s playing on the biggest stage of college football and it’s creating memories with your teammates that last a lifetime.”

On his coaching mentors: “Matt Entz, head coach at North Dakota State. I keep talking about the student-athlete experience, and that’s Matt Entz to a T. He’s someone I will continue to lean on. That man taught me what it looked like to be a detail-oriented coach that was passionate about the game. Uncommon work ethic, pushed his players to be the absolute best while absolutely loving on them every second of the way, and also embodied what it looked like to be a great husband and a great father. So yeah, Matt Entz all day.”

On if he considered not attending Media Days: “There were some jokes about if Kristin can go into labor roughly about 8 a.m. this morning, But absolutely not. If I’m going to ask our players to stare this thing down and take on this adversity and come together, it was absolutely critical that I showed up and stared this down and started to pave a roadmap for how we’re going to move forward. “

On preparing for today: “I’ve been so busy with so many other things. I don’t know if the full gravity of that hit me until last night. I’m very thankful for a lot of people praying for me right now. And I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for the maturing process I’ve gone through over the course of the last five years of truly understanding what matters and who I truly answer to. This is something over the course of the last 24 hours that I just wanted to make sure that my words were certainly empathizing with anyone that’s gone through something, and has been a victim of hazing, is in full support of our team, our staff and those that are at our facility; make sure that my words come across in a way of understanding how honored I am to have an opportunity to walk alongside our team as we as we go through this. My wife told me, ‘go be you, just be yourself.’ That is the best advice anyone could ask for.”

On if staffers named in allegations still have credibility: “I won’t comment on anything that is alleged. I’m confident in the fact that our university has procedures in place to do what they need to do to see facts and make decisions based off the facts. To answer your follow-up question, since I arrived on Jan. 16 of this year, I have seen nothing but a coaching staff, and the two names that you mentioned [MacPherson and Hooten] are guys that have rallied around our players, and been there for them. Speaking on my experiences, I have full confidence in the men that are in that facility right now.”

On having a pulse on his locker room: “It’s a great question. Number one, it’s making sure that there’s perfect alignment from our university leadership, athletic administration, myself and then our entire staff, down to our players, to understand that those expectations are there. Then, just being fiercely intentional about making sure that I’m observing everything, taking everything in and making sure that what we’re doing as a football program, as a university, is what we’ve promised to do.

“The more time that we can spend with them: at meals, in the weight room, walking around the facility. I mean, how do you build trust? How do you develop culture? It’s time, it’s getting to know one another. So if that’s one less hour of film for me in the prep, maybe someone else has to pick up that slack. But the more that I can deal with our players, the better off we’re going to be.”

On if he’s seen any form of hazing at Northwestern: “Absolutely not.”

On if he’s read allegations that surfaced: “I have not. I read the executive summary. There’s things that have been brought to my attention that [I] absolutely had to know. But again, for me to continue to look at my phone and see exactly what’s breaking, I’m trusting our administrators and the support around me to bring things to my attention that I need to know about, and pour in every other ounce of my energy into the people in our facility — most specifically, our players.”

On if he’s talked to Fitzgerald since becoming head coach: “Those conversations are private. What I can say is, Coach Fitz has a son on the team, and I have tried to be very intentional about making sure that I’m connecting with the parents of the young men on our team. I can also state that I’ve been charged with leading this program moving forward, and I’m making those decisions based on being in the building and having our student-athletes at the forefront of what’s guiding those decisions. Coach Fitz is someone that there was a long-standing relationship with, and someone that I plan on having as a friend for for a long time.”

On if he feels supported by the administration: “Absolutely. In terms of a roster, we have quite the task at hand. We essentially have been thrust into a situation where we are recruiting our entire team, until this transfer portal window opens. I feel very confident saying that any questions that I’ve had in navigating that, the administration has been very supportive.”

On maintaining high school recruiting: “The best thing we can do right now is just go put on full display of what this place is all about and go win a bunch of football games. I trust when we do that, those guys are going to realize that Northwestern is still a great option for them moving forward.”

On having only three players transfer so far: “It speaks to the character of the young men that had been recruited here. It speaks to the leadership in this locker room. Honestly, it speaks to our strength and conditioning staff. Those are the men that have had the most direct interaction with those guys on a consistent basis for morning workouts moving forward. There’s some stuff that I’ve had to push through. That’s difficult, but I view that as a means to making sure that we get to fall camp and this season, and let our guys go write their story. But when you’re around our guys right now, and you’re in the weight room, you’re in a one-on-one meeting with them, it’s contagious. It’s a special group.”

On delegating responsibility: “Just because I have ‘interim head coach’ next to my name doesn’t mean that it’s my responsibility to micromanage everything within our program. It’s trusting Mike Bajakian; it’s trusting our offensive staff. I’ll let them make those decisions. I’m going to just keep getting to know those guys and making sure that I feel like I got a pulse of this football team.”

On what’s been most difficult: “Honestly, I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. I’ve gotten way better at that. But still, that’s kind of my natural fabric, and I can be pretty self-critical. So there’s some times that I’m letting my boys down right now, I’m not at their baseball game, or I’m not home in time to help Kristin around the house. When it comes to being a people-pleaser, you realize as you become a defensive coordinator, there’s more people that report to you; there’s more people that are waiting on your decisions.

“You can’t please everyone; you’ve just got to do what you believe is in the best interest of the group. You thought that was gravity; now, all of a sudden, you’re sitting in the role as a head coach, and you better just have your convictions and stay true to who you are. Then just be willing, when you make a decision that you recognize it was a bad decision, you’re willing to pivot quickly. But those are two things that I’m really wrestling with on a daily basis.”

On President Michael Schill’s decision to fire Fitzgerald: “The decisions of President Schill are things that I won’t comment on, and, to be honest with you, I feel like are really not in my lane. I don’t plan on getting out of my lane any time soon.”

On what will improve Northwestern’s negative perception: “Put our players on full display. They will change that conversation and that narrative. Anyone that has had an opportunity to meet the young men that are part of Northwestern football would know they’re men of character, integrity, toughness, grit, highly intellectual, selfless individuals that are awesome to coach.”

On talking to transfers about their feelings: “Honestly, it’s the same conversation that we’ve had with everyone on that roster. I know it’s more fresh; no different than with our current freshmen. But I would venture to say that a majority of our roster, one of the determining factors in them coming to Northwestern was the opportunity to pay play for Coach Fitz. So there’s going to be some natural, ‘Why am I still here if he’s not?’ Those are hard conversations.”

On quantifying the number of players who are frustrated: “I did not put a number on thoughts of who may or may not leave. In reference to some of the things that our guys are, are experiencing, I don’t want to speak for the young men within our program. I think each has had a very unique experience. I can say with conviction that there is many individuals that that wish that Coach Fitz was still their head coach. But everyone’s had their own unique experience. Again, I think that’s where it’s so critical that I just continue to find ways to do my best to meet these guys where they’re at as individuals. That’s where one-on-one meetings are just so critical in all this.”

On if he ever considered not accepting the interim job: “Absolutely not. I hope I’ve been raised in a way that I’m the guy that people can count on. I’ll stand in the fire with them; I’ll run to the fire. I hope when I look back on this 20 years from now, I’m proud of the way that we went about this.”

On instilling a new culture: “Especially considering our current situation and the timeliness of it, I think it’s my role to really observe who we are. Not to say, ‘This is what is said on a PowerPoint or this is what hangs on the walls,’ but what do our actions show? What do we want our actions to show? And then really start to create a conversation of what that looks like and how we can make sure that that shows up on a consistent basis.”

On recruiting: “That is an incredible challenge right now, just from a standpoint of of all the moving pieces that’s going on right now. The first thing I would say is the best thing we can do is focus on the people that are currently in that facility, and find a way to go win a bunch of football games while making sure that we ensure that our players know that if a recruit walked in, they’d say, “Hey, Joe Smith, or whoever telling you that this this place is special, you’re going to get one of the best educations you can find you’re going to be playing Big Ten football. We’ve been through a lot, but there’s something special brewing here.’

“We move forward; we may not be able to chase after the, high-end four star. We just need to find guys that fit us. Guys that are developmental, that want to be developed and pushed. That we have a view of not who they are today — who they can be 36 months from now. Get those guys in the program and say, ‘Three years from now, watch out.’ So it’ll be a unique recruiting cycle. But I’m confident in our recruiting staff and the conversations they’ve started to have on how we’re going to navigate them moving forward.”

On ensuring that Northwestern is a safe place: “I’ll refer back to my opening opening comments. At the forefront of my mind is going to be the student-athlete experience. Hazing has no place in that.”

On the Big Ten’s new TV deal: “I have no idea. That’s something I’m still learning.”

On helping players handle updates with allegations: “I think it comes down to just continuing to control what I can control, and then show up to that building every day or wherever we’re together, and just bringing the energy into that room. That whatever is put in front of us today, we’re going to navigate this together. Struggles with anxiety that are certainly real are things, that we’re fearful of the future. Well, the best way that we can control that is just put ourselves in the present. I’m gonna do my best to make sure I’m modeling that for our student-athletes.”

On when his wife is due: “Literally, her due date is our report date to camp. We’ll be going in Friday morning, and hope to have a new baby girl some time this weekend, so very soon.”

On his control of the program: “To think that you’re going to have full control over 100 adolescent young men, or, for that matter, an entire program and all the pieces that go into that, isn’t realistic. You’ve got to lean into making sure that you feel like you’re populating your organization with the right people. That’s going to be part of the biggest learning curve that I go through, What does that really look like? And how can I make sure that the student athlete experience I keep referring back to, that everything is pointed towards that. But it will be an incredible challenge, one that I’ll have to seek a great deal of experience and wisdom from others for.

On if expectations for 2023 have changed: “If our players were sitting here — I stand with our players on this — they would say that the standards and expectations have not changed. And that’s to win a Big Ten West championship, show back up in Indy and go win a bowl game.”

On what the Northwestern administration has done to make him feel supported: “Be willing to meet, answer phone calls, take text messages, and listen.”

On injury updates before training camp: “I can say as an entire roster, I feel really good about where we’re at with the health of our football team. We’re excited to lean into the depth on this football team moving forward.”

On construction of Ryan Field: “To be very frank with you, that has not been something that’s even even crossed my mind. I fully trust those in charge of making that happen are taking all the proper steps to make sure we keep more moving forward and continue to keep that as a piece of what is critical to Northwestern football for the future.”

On if he’s talked to Pat Ryan yet: “I have not. Looking forward to that opportunity.”

On A.J. Henning: “We’ve got to find ways to allow that young man to touch the football, whether that’s on special teams, on the offensive side of the ball. I’m really excited about the depth in that wide receiver room. I think we’re gonna really be able to do, I am extremely confident in Mike’s [Bajakian’s] ability to find ways to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands through quick game, through screens, through RPOs, and finding ways to put guys like A.J. in different spots on the field so people can’t track him. I’m excited about where this offense is at. We plan on A.J. being a big part of that.”

On what he wants to see from quarterbacks: “I want to see these guys compete and lead, which which they’ve shown. Something that I really took from my time at North Dakota State, I wasn’t there while Carson [Wentz] was playing, but I’ve met Carson, been around him when he’s come back. I’ve had a chance to be around Easton Stick a great deal. Trey Lance is one of my favorites of all time just in terms of who he is, what he stands for and what he’s meant to myself and my family. Cam Miller has had one heck of a career up there so far.

“The thing that I’ve learned about just being around that group is so much of their success has nothing to do with their arm talent or their footwork or all those tangible things that we like to dissect. What made all of those guys great in their own way, through their own unique personality, was their willingness to stand out in the arena with courage and go lead. And that’s what I want to see out of that room. I’m confident that room is full of those types of young men.”

On the benefits of coming from an outside program: “Northwestern football, under Coach Fitz, reached incredible heights and created incredible sustainability and stability. There’s so many things that we’ll continue to evaluate. I think the narrative that sometimes happens, and this happened for me — and it frustrates me to be honest with you — is people say, ‘Well it’s your defense, talk to me about your defense.’ It’s not my defense; it’s our defense. It’s our staff’s defense, our players, are all a critical part of this. So for there to be this thought that, ‘Well, I need to step in and make it mine,’ that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We have an incredible opportunity to evaluate everything, and again, identify what this team does well; where there’s some potential holes and limitations, how we can cover those up, and how we find ways to win games this season. Nothing more frustrating, and it happened at North Dakota State. But, ‘Why do we do it this way?’ Well, that’s how we’ve always done it. And we’ve won this many national championships do in that way.’ But if you can’t give a direct reason. Matt Entz, he was great about saying, ‘That’s not a good enough answer.’ Well, the same should apply here. If there’s a great reason why we’re doing it that way, awesome, let’s keep it consistent. But if we don’t have a great reason for it, or we feel like it’s time to evolve, tweak and change, then we better be willing to do it. Again, coming back to my tendencies of being a people pleaser, I gotta guard against that. Because if there’s a bunch of people looking at me saying ‘We’re not comfortable with that,’ I’ve got to be willing to say, ‘I think it’s in the best interest of this football team for right now to do it this way.’ And that can be a really difficult conversation, and will be one of my greatest challenges.”

On if allegations have affected his perception of Northwestern’s players: “Not one bit. I can only refer back to my experiences I’ve had since since January of this year. I was so fortunate to be around a group of men at North Dakota State that were just an incredible group that I loved to coach. To even have the ability to compare this group to that group, the love and admiration that I have for those guys up in Fargo, I put this group right along with it.

“I’ve only been with them for a few months. But, it hasn’t changed one thing. If anything, it’s just really solidified everything they’ve gone through in the time I’ve spent with them how special this group is. I can’t speak to what happened prior to my arrival; I can only speak to my experiences, and everything I’ve experienced gives me great conviction that that I’m rolling with a group that will take this thing head on and come together to do something really special.”

On having five total new Northwestern coaches: “I think it’s an opportunity for us to all recognize that there’s certain things that we don’t know. Then that’s where we lean on people that have been around Northwestern for a long time, whether that be on campus, whether that be within other components of the athletic department, the administration. We just talked about an opportunity for us to evaluate everything and make decisions that we know are in the best interest of our student-athletes.

“But I can tell you this: we’re going to make sure we do everything in our power to keep our our student-athletes routine and rhythm intact as much as we can, as long as there’s reason that aligns with how we’re moving forward, because of the timing of this situation. We are on the cusp of fall camp starting and, again, I’ll keep coming back to it. If we’re saying it’s their interest that that we’re putting at the forefront, we have to consider that in every decision that we make.”

On praising Fitzgerald despite allegations: “I don’t know what transpired, so I can’t speak to that. I’ve admired Coach Fitz for a long time in everything that I’ve experienced since I arrived on Jan. 16 of this year aligned with everything I believed him to be. What you see is what you get. He’s a man that stood for the holistic development of young men and prioritizes family — things that I admire and look up to.”