Football: Fitzgerald named Big Ten Coach of the Year


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Pat Fitzgerald coaches from the sideline.

Cole Paxton, Gameday Editor

Pat Fitzgerald was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by both coaches and the media, the conference announced Tuesday.

The distinction is the first for Fitzgerald in his 13 years at the helm of the Wildcats. He broke that streak this season by leading Northwestern to its first-ever Big Ten West title and a berth in Saturday’s conference title game against Ohio State.

Fitzgerald, an All-American linebacker for the Cats in the 1990s, corralled his team from a sluggish 1-3 start to win seven straight Big Ten games and close the regular season 8-4. NU went 6-0 against west division foes and beat two ranked teams — Michigan State and Iowa — on the road.

Speaking Monday, ahead of the announcement, Fitzgerald downplayed the significance of his individual accomplishments.

“If it was my name, it would not be about me, it would be about the program. That would be a program accomplishment,” he said. “We don’t do anything here individually. It’s all collectively. I would obviously be humbled, but more importantly, I’m very thankful.”

The 43-year-old Fitzgerald is the first NU coach to receive the distinction since Randy Walker in 2000, when the Cats also finished the regular season 8-4. The award is the fifth total for NU since it was first introduced in 1972.

“Coach Fitz is the face of this program and he’s a great leader. For him to win coach of the year would be a testament to his hard work,” junior defensive end Joe Gaziano said Monday. “He’s always giving us a great gameplan, great motivation, but also his experience in what we’re going through right now. … To be able to have that experience is a testament to why he’s in consideration for that award.”

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