Football: NU left with openings at key positions

Wade Askew

Almost one month to the day after former defensive coordinator Greg Colby was fired, offensive coordinator Garrick McGee announced Jan. 2 that he will leave his post to take over as quarterbacks coach at the University of Arkansas.

McGee, 34, was named offensive coordinator before the 2006 season. While coach Randy Walker promoted him from wide receivers coach after Mike Dunbar was hired by the University of California, McGee had to learn on the job without his mentor when Walker passed away in the summer of 2006.

In what turned out to be a rocky and inconsistent year for the offense, Northwestern finished 4-8 and McGee never seemed to find a rhythm. His 2006 offense ranked last in the Big Ten and 92nd nationally with 311.1 yards per game.

But McGee’s 2007 offense led the Big Ten with 427.7 yards per game. It finished 11th nationally in passing yards per game, and junior quarterback C.J. Bacher set a school record with 3,656 passing yards.

Still, the offense ranked second-to-last in the conference in scoring, putting up 25.8 points per game, and often struggled in the red zone. McGee was also criticized by some for not giving enough carries to junior running backs Tyrell Sutton, who hit the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, and Omar Conteh.

Colby was fired as the defensive coordinator after six seasons at NU, during which the defense never finished better than 68th in the nation. The 2005 edition ranked last in the country and the 2002 unit, Colby’s first at NU, finished second to last.

Many expected the 2007 defense to be much improved. But it finished 78th nationally, including 10th out of 11 in the Big Ten in both scoring and total defense. Opposing offenses burned the Cats for 410.5 yards and 31.0 points per game.

“I want to thank Greg for his contributions to Northwestern’s football program,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a statement. “I’ve decided, however, it’s time to make a change in our defensive leadership. We will start looking for a successor immediately.”

The search for a replacement continues, and it is yet unclear what type of defensive philosophy Fitzgerald hopes to implement. In the past, the coach has said he eventually would like to move to a 3-4 defensive alignment.

Offensively, the Wildcats are expected to keep the same spread attack that has been the school’s staple since Walker implemented it in 2000.

“I plan to start our search for a new coordinator immediately,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We are sticking with our current offensive philosophy and want to maintain our reputation of having one of the most diverse and dangerous spread attacks in the country.”

Fitzgerald and NU players were not available for comment.

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