Forman: Memo to Phillips – Sign Fitz

Matt Forman

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All signs point to yes.

Yes, Jim Phillips, please sign Pat Fitzgerald to a contract extension.

Despite the economic downturn, rumors have been circulating that Northwestern’s athletic director is in negotiations with its football savior.

And that’s just what Fitzgerald is in the college football ranks – a savior. It’s an era in which coaches spring for greener pastures and a bigger contract after a season or two. An era in which coaches are slimy recruiters who care only about the bottom line.

But here’s the difference: Just like in any relationship, you need to have commitment. Fitzgerald has committed himself completely to NU. He’s called this his dream job. The athletic department and the university need to reciprocate. Show the same level of commitment by giving Fitzgerald a contract extension.

And why not? Fitz’s resume speaks for itself.

Fitzgerald was one of the best players, if not the best player, in school history. He’s the only player in college football history to win back-to-back Nagurski and Bednarik Awards, both given to the best defensive player in college football. That’s the sign of a hard-nosed worker.

At 34, Fitzgerald is the second youngest coach in the country, recently losing that honor to Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin by six months. He’s already held the title for the last three seasons. That’s the sign of a pioneer.

The football program is on the rise. The win totals over the last three seasons – four, six and nine – say it all. More importantly, the team will graduate six starters on offense and three on defense from the Alamo Bowl team, but no one expects the team to take a step backward next year. That’s the sign of a winner.

Fitzgerald is loyal to NU. He bleeds purple. He does things the right way. Maybe most importantly, his players drink the KoolAid. No matter how hard we try to push them off it, they believe in the “We’re 0-0, just looking to go 1-0 this week” mantra. It makes no sense, but they buy in. That’s the sign of a leader.

And Fitzgerald doesn’t just preach clichés. He also preaches life lessons – Stay the course, life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how you respond, family is the building block behind everything and you have to flush the good, flush the bad.

Fitz is teaching his players life lessons, not just football lessons. That’s why he should be considered Coach Forever, Pat Fitzgerald.

Because NU is a private institution, contract information is not made readily available to the public. But there should be one model to keep in mind when considering everything.

It’s too early to begin comparing Fitzgerald to Penn State’s Coach Forever, Joe Paterno, who will be coaching his 60th season on the Nittany Lions’ staff in the fall. But Paterno’s extensive relationship with Penn State should be what this relationship strives to emulate.

Paterno essentially holds a lifelong contract in State College. The 82-year-old signed a three-year extension in December. While his contract information was not disclosed either, just about every dime Paterno has earned has been returned to the university in donations.

Not everything turns out that glamorously. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but there’s an opportunity here. One that needs to be taken advantage of.

We’re lucky to have Pat Fitzgerald. Now let’s make him lucky to be here.

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