Northwestern Fires Coach Pat Fitzgerald Amidst Hazing Scandal

Posted on: July 11, 2023, 11:31h. 

Last updated on: July 11, 2023, 12:09h.

Northwestern has fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald in the wake of a hazing scandal involving players that rocked the school. As a result, Northwestern saw its futures tank and is now a huge long shot at +20000 odds to win the Big Ten Championship this season.

Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern
Football coach Pat Fitzgerald, seen here on the sidelines of a Northwestern and Ohio State game in 2022, was fired by the Northwestern University president in the wake of a hazing scandal. (Image: AP)

Fitzgerald, a former star linebacker at Northwestern, took over as head coach in 2006. During 17 seasons at the helm, Fitzgerald amassed a 110-101 record, including going 65-76 in Big Ten play.

Fitzgerald led Northwestern to first-place finishes in the West Division twice since 2018. Under Fitzgerald, Northwestern was invited to 10 bowl games. Northwestern won their last four bowl appearances, and Fitzgerald has an overall record of 5-5 in bowl games.

Northwestern last qualified for a bowl game in the 2020 season when they defeated Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats struggled in the last two seasons. They went 3-9 in 2021 and 1-11 in 2022. They were 1-8 in conference play in each of the last two seasons.

Defensive coordinator David Braun is expected to take over as interim head coach. Fitzgerald was the fifth-longest tenured head coach in the FBS. He spent 26 total years at Northwestern, including four as a player and five seasons as an assistant coach.

Fitzgerald Initially Suspended for Two Weeks

An anonymous whistleblower, a former member of the football team, made the initial hazing allegations about his experiences during his freshman season.

Northwestern contacted an outside law firm in January, which began a six-month investigation into the hazing allegations. Led by attorney Maggie Hickey of the ArentFox Schiff law firm, the investigation determined that there wasn’t sufficient evidence that Fitzgerald or the rest of the coaching staff had knowledge of the hazing incidents.

“The investigation did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach, (that) participation in or knowledge of the hazing activities was widespread across football players,” read the final summary.

The investigation confirmed that at least 11 former Northwestern players acknowledged that hazing was widespread within the football program.

Northwestern deemed Fitzgerald ultimately responsible and university president Michael Schill suspended him for two weeks without pay.

The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” chill wrote in an open letter to students and alumni. “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.”

“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University,” Fitzgerald said last Friday. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards. We will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”

Schill Reverses Course After Article, Fires Fitzgerald

The Daily Northwestern published an article over the weekend that detailed the hazing and sexual abuse of players. The article went viral, and numerous students and alumni voiced their disappointment with the initial decision and called for Fitzgerald’s dismissal. After the board of trustees met on Monday, Schill reversed course and fired Fitzgerald.

The hazing included forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature, in clear violation of Northwestern policies and values,” Schill wrote in his letter to the Northwestern community.

The former player and whistleblower sent an official statement to Adam Rittenberg from ESPN.

“For me, this has always been about the physical and mental safety of student-athletes,” said the former player. “There is still progress to be made in athletics across the country. Today is a move in that direction. I am appreciative of those that reviewed the facts that have been presented.”

“I was surprised when I learned that the president of Northwestern unilaterally revoked our agreement without any prior notification and subsequently terminated my employment,” said Fitzgerald in an official statement he released to ESPN.

Fitzgerald addressed the team, which includes his oldest son Jack, in a private meeting on Monday evening.

Northwestern Futures Plummet

Ohio State and Michigan are co-favorites at +175 odds to win the Big Ten Championship this season, according to a recent update by DraftKings. Only two other Big Ten teams have longer odds than Northwestern, including Rutgers (+25000) and Indiana (+50000).

Prior to the hazing scandal, Northwestern was +10000 odds to win the conference championship. After Northwestern fired Fitzgerald, their Big Ten title odds dropped to +20000.

Northwestern plays in the Big Ten West Division, and their odds dropped to +10000 as the biggest long shot in their division.

Oddsmakers don’t have a positive outlook for Northwestern this upcoming season, setting a win total of 3.5 over/under. In the last 24 hours, the odds shifted and you have to lay -145 odds to bet under 3.5 wins for Northwestern. If you want to bet over 3.5 wins for Northwestern, that prop bet pays +125.

This is the first major hazing incident to rock the Northwestern campus, which is located north of Chicago in Evanston, Ill. The college basketball program at Northwestern was once involved in a points-shaving scandal in the mid-1990s.