Rumor: Packers "Likely" to Interview Pat Fitzgerald

Former Colts head coaches Chuck Pagano and Jim Caldwell may not be the only coaches that Green Bay has interviewed in the wake of Mike McCarthy’s firing.

In a December 27 article, Packers News reporter Pete Dougherty wrote that it "seems likely [the Packers will] at least interview" Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald

The report also suggested general manager Brian Gutekunst "thinks very highly of Fitzgerald."

Packers president Mark Murphy was the athletic director at Northwestern when he promoted the then-31-year-old linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator to head coach following the sudden death of Randy Walker.

"There’s always a risk involved" when hiring a head coach, Murphy said in a 2010 feature on Fitzgerald. "From my perspective, when you considered the quality of the person, I considered it a chance worth taking."

The NFL’s odd procedure for contacting college coaches

Murphy, who attends the NFL’s owners meetings on behalf of the Packers, heard a reminder from the league during December’s meeting on the antiquated rules surrounding hiring college coaches.

The NFL’s anti-tampering policy states:

Before an NFL club has discussions regarding the possible hiring of a college coach or other employee, that club should first determine whether the employee is under contract. If the employee is under contract, the club must seek permission from the Athletic Director or other appropriate college official to have discussions with the employee. If permission is granted, the NFL club may proceed to discuss employment opportunities and to hire the college employee, subject to any limitation expressed in the grant of consent. If permission is denied, the NFL club should respect that decision just as it would respect a similar decision from another NFL club. NFL clubs that fail to follow these protocols may be subject to disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the League.

The NFL and NCAA are one-part friends and one-part enemies. The NFL relies on the NCAA’s amateur status to serve as a de facto minor league, but a strong NCAA team can temper interest in NFL teams.

When I moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 2015, I experienced this first-hand. I’ve lived in the metro area for two major football experiences – the Atlanta Falcons reaching Super Bowl LI and the Georgia Bulldogs reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship. 

The Falcons’ Super Bowl run drew mild interest from the community in comparison to the Bulldogs’ appearance in the national championship. While many celebrated the Falcons, it paled in comparison to the fanfare, community watch parties and grocery store madness that came with the Bulldogs game against Alabama.

Might the Packers have already interviewed Pat Fitzgerald?

Virginia Tech head coach  Frank Beamer  was secretly interviewed by the Packers in 2000 before his team played in the national championship.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer was secretly interviewed by the Packers in 2000 before his team played in the national championship.

The Packers are no strangers to the NFL’s protocol. After the departure of head coach Ray Rhodes following the 1999 season, general manager Ron Wolf strongly considered a trio of college coaches: Badgers head coach Barry Alvarez, Miami head coach Butch Davis, and Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer

While the papers suggested Alvarez and Davis were frontrunners for the job, Wolf dispatched salary cap expert Andrew Brandt to secretly meet with Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in Virginia.

Beamer’s Hokies were 11-0 heading into a national championship game with redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick tearing apart defenses. Brandt was extraordinarily impressed by the coach and phoned Wolf recommending he interview Beamer as soon as possible. Wolf met Beamer in a Roanoke hotel a few weeks later, but the Packers ultimately hired Mike Sherman as their head coach. 

Brandt’s preliminary interview was not reported until well after the coaching search had concluded. College coaches are understandably sensitive to news breaking that they’re eyeing a jump to the NFL, as it would affect recruiting and preparation for an upcoming bowl game.

Fitzgerald’s Wildcats play in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl on New Year’s Eve. It’s unlikely any news would break on whether the Packers have met with Fitzgerald until after the game. And, if Fitzgerald has already met with the Packers and decided to stay at Northwestern, it may ultimately be months before that news comes out.