Football: Pat Fitzgerald wins 2020 Dodd Coach of the Year


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman.

Pat Fitzgerald watches a play during the Big Ten Championship. Fitzgerald signed a new deal keeping him in Evanston until 2030.

Andrew Golden and Peter Warren


Pat FItzgerald has already accomplished a lot in his football career. As a player, he was honored as a two-time Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner and two-time Chuck Bednarik Award winner. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. As a coach, he took home the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award in 2018.

But he had never won a national coach of the year prize — that was, until today.

Fitzgerald was named the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Trophy, the most coveted coaching award in college football. He is the second Northwestern coach to ever win this award after Gary Barnett in 1995.

Fitzgerald said the award is not just about him but a reflection of the program — and the credit should not just go to him, but also to his players and staff.

“It’s truly an honor to join that club because it’s not just about wins and losses,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s about the way you develop men. We, as a program, take pride in being the best player development program in the country and best player development program staff in the country so it’s a great honor.”

Fitzgerald becomes the seventh Big Ten coach to take home this award. The only active Big Ten coach to take home this honor is Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, who won the award in 2015.

The Illinois native was previously a finalist for the award in 2017 and 2018.

The honor was given, in part, for Fitzgerald’s role in turning the Wildcat program around after a disconcerting 2019 season that saw NU win only one game in Big Ten play and finished the season at 3-9. But 2020 was a completely different story.

The Cats went 6-2 and won their second Big Ten West Championship in three seasons while accumulating no positive COVID tests during the regular season.

Fitzgerald started the season by winning his 100th game as head coach of the Cats against Maryland, becoming the first coach in program history to accomplish the feat. NU continued their strong stretch of play with five consecutive wins to start Big Ten play, the first time the Cats have done that since 1996.

After their fifth win, a commanding victory over then-No. 10 Wisconsin, Fitzgerald was named Dodd Coach of the Week. The Cats concluded the regular season with its sixth-straight victory over Illinois, the longest win streak by NU over their in-state rival in program history.

The Cats took a lead into halftime against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but faltered in the second half and failed to win their first conference crown since 2000.

In the final act of the 2020 season, Fitzgerald and NU will take on Auburn in the Citrus Bowl, hoping to win its fourth consecutive bowl game. Tigers interim coach Kevin Steele said he does not personally know Fitzgerald, but has a tremendous amount of respect for him.

“(Fitzgerald) is a future Hall of Famer,” Steele said. “He has done remarkable things at Northwestern.”

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