Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Football: Varnes: Pat Fitzgerald should step down, allow Northwestern football to heal

Coach Pat Fitzgerald has embodied Northwestern football for decades.

He was a star linebacker when the Wildcats made it to the Rose Bowl in 1996, elevating NU to new heights. He’s coached the Cats to 10 bowl games, more than any other coach in the University’s history. He’s proved to student-athletes that it’s possible to play for an often competitive program in the Big Ten while earning a nationally renowned education. 

Now, he’s under scrutiny during one of NU football’s darkest moments: the alleged systemic, violent, sexually exploitative hazing of players validated by an independent investigation and reported about in The Daily. Fitzgerald says he has no awareness that the hazing occurred. The independent investigation stated there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove if Fitzgerald and his staff knew about the hazing, but “there had been significant opportunities [for coaches] to discover and report the hazing conduct.” 

Whether or not Fitz knew of the hazing, he is the unquestioned leader of this program and has responsibilities he failed. If he did, it’s an egregious, fireable offense. If he didn’t, then how well did he know his team? What kind of culture did he and other leaders cultivate to where alleged behavior like dry humping freshmen and sexual violence is permissible? To where players don’t feel comfortable calling out this alleged behavior?

If Fitzgerald wants the best for this program, he needs to step down. He is now the face of a team with deep-rooted problems and seemingly at war with itself –– no matter if he knew about the hazing or not.

Take the statement supposedly written by the “ENTIRE Northwestern Football Team.” First of all, as many others have pointed out, college football teams have about 100 players. I have some doubts about whether this statement had the support of all student-athletes, especially given how quickly it was put out after The Daily’s story on Saturday. 

The independent investigation found evidence of hazing. So, either those who were hazed are stuck in the shadows as their teammates put this statement out. Or they’re so tolerant of what they went through that they think it’s okay to frame the whistleblower’s allegations as “exaggerated and twisted.” Both scenarios are disappointing and revolting. 

Alumni got in on refuting the allegations as well, taking to Twitter to convey their support for Pat Fitzgerald. In doing so, some called into question what the victim alleged while some simply announced support for Fitzgerald without mentioning the victim at all. 

It’s all sickening. Where is the compassion? Why were some so quick to blame or question the victim? Why the blind loyalty? 

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t know that I want to. But, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that there’s something deeply amiss with the football program, whether it’s the horrifying allegations or the chaos on social media. 

The University needs to take action swiftly — and in a more serious manner than the two-week, unpaid suspension handed down to Fitzgerald on Friday. 

Firing Fitzgerald is the first step. Whether he knew about the hazing or not, he clearly lost his locker room if they viewed hazing as acceptable behavior. He also went 1-11 in 2022 and 3-9 in 2021. Regardless of a toxic culture off-the-field, a 1-11 record would have you gone in November at most Power Five institutions. 

Next, the University should suspend the football program. It’s a big ask. It’s seemingly an incomprehensible ask. NU is in the Big Ten, and football makes an absurd amount of money. 

But the independent investigation confirmed there was hazing. Whether it was to the extent alleged in The Daily is unclear, but hazing still took place. There are clearly culture issues in the football program. Time off the field and away from practice would be valuable for players to re-examine how and why this occurred, and why it should never happen again. 

There’s a long love story between Fitzgerald and NU, however. It’s difficult to imagine the University firing him, but with each new allegation, it remains increasingly likely.

Fitzgerald can maintain some dignity by stepping down. I’m reminded of Stanford coach David Shaw, who stepped down in November. It was under very different circumstances –– Shaw had led the Cardinal to a losing record in three of their four most recent seasons. But I admired that Shaw stepped down, recognizing when his moment was over, rather than prolonging the suffering of the Stanford program and forcing the University’s hand.

It’s difficult to imagine how Fitzgerald can salvage his legacy, at least now. Some have alleged to The Daily and Inside NU that this went on for years. The horrifying allegations in The Daily have tainted his tenure, regardless of whether he knew about what was happening or not.

It’s time for Pat Fitzgerald to step down. He should do it for his student-athletes, who need to heal from their pain and learn from their wrongs. He should do it for the University he’s come to love, for the purple-and-white clad fans who have clung to his leadership for more than a decade and are now shocked and repulsed. 

Allow us a fresh start. Let your program heal. It’s time. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

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