Football: New hires excited for road ahead

Andrew Simon

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and his new staff members, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and offensive coordinator Mick McCall, have many challenges ahead of them. It will be their task to make up for last season’s disappointments and get the Wildcats back to a bowl game for the first time since 2005.

But at an introductory press conference for the coordinators Friday morning at the Nicolet Football Center, all three coaches expressed nothing but excitement for what lies ahead. All three mentioned their enthusiasm right off the bat in their opening statements, with Fitzgerald proclaiming it an “exciting day for Northwestern football.”

Fitzgerald announced the hiring of both coaches Wednesday. McCall spent last season as the offensive coordinator at Bowling Green and Hankwitz was fired recently at Wisconsin after two years as defensive coordinator.

Hankwitz started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan in 1970 and has served as defensive coordinator at six schools since then. Despite his wealth of experience, he said didn’t know yet if NU would keep its 4-3 defense or switch to the 3-4 scheme Fitzgerald is thought to prefer.

“I’ve coached both – a three-man front team, a true 3-4 and I’ve been in a 4-3 that implemented 3-4 type things,” Hankwitz said. “I want to get a feel for our personnel. We want to be multiple enough that we’re giving offenses problems, but we want to be able to execute, too.”

With McCall in charge of the Cats’ offense, quarterback C.J. Bacher, running back Tyrell Sutton and company will not have to worry about any change in schemes. The new coach worked with a spread offense similar to NU’s at Bowling Green and expressed his intention not to make any drastic alterations.

“There are some things you may see different than you saw a year ago, but we’re going to spread the field just like (Hankwitz) talked about and be able to throw it and run it equally as well,” he said.

Both coordinators spoke about how they were glad to be at a school with NU’s academic reputation and so near to Chicago.

Hankwitz said he was influenced to come to Evanston from talking to past NU coaches, while McCall gave a lot of credit to Fitzgerald’s sales pitch.

“In the short time Pat and I had to talk, I was excited about going into the meeting and ready to throw on a Northwestern football helmet and play right after that,” he said. “He’s very enthusiastic, passionate about Northwestern football because he’s lived it.”

The excitement seems to be mutual.

“I walked out of the meetings and interviews and said ‘Those guys fit what I’m trying to do with our value structure and from a leadership style for our players and our program and the type of guys we’re trying to attract to our program,'” Fitzgerald said. “I’m excited to have them come here and I cannot wait to get started.”

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