Packers Head Coach Candidate: Pat Fitzgerald

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The process of searching for a new head coach is often shrouded in secrecy and full of misdirections and planted information.

But the breadcrumbs that connect Northwestern University head coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Green Bay Packers are there, and they’re significant.

Consider the following:

  • Before being named the President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers, Mark Murphy was the athletic director at Northwestern. Murphy is known for shepherding the university through the sudden passing of football coach Randy Walker in 2006, when he made the bold decision to elevate the team’s linebackers coach to the position of head coach. That linebackers coach was 31-year-old Pat Fitzgerald.

  • Fitzgerald’s agent is Bryan Harlan, the son of Packers Chairman Emeritus Bob Harlan. As CEO of the Packers from 1989-2007, Harlan hired Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf, oversaw numerous renovations of Lambeau Field, and is credited for keeping the Packers financially viable in the small town of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Few things are certain, but it seems highly likely Fitzgerald and the Packers will have some sort of communication about the vacancy at head coach.

The details on Pat Fitzgerald

Current job: Head Coach at Northwestern (2006 - Present)
Record as a head coach: 95-70
First job: Graduate Assistant at Maryland (1998)
Packers connection: Fitzgerald’s agent is Bryan Harlan, the son of Packers Chairman Emeritus Bob Harlan. Packers CEO Mark Murphy, then Northwestern’s athletic director, promoted Fitzgerald to head coach in 2006. Four players coached by Fitzgerald are on the Packers roster: DB Ibraheim Campbell, FB Danny Vitale, DT Tyler Lancaster, and DE Dean Lowry.

The background on Pat Fitzgerald

When Pat Fitzgerald was named the head coach at Northwestern in July 2006 by athletic director Mark Murphy, the 31-year-old was the youngest coach in Division I FBS by five years. A decade earlier, he was an All-American linebacker for the Wildcats, and he had yet to be a coordinator, let alone a head coach.

Murphy was in a tough spot, hiring a replacement for Randy Walker. Walker had spent six seasons building a successful program, and tragically passed away because of a heart attack at the age of 52.

Instead of elevating one of the coordinators, Murphy chose Fitzgerald, then the team’s linebackers coach. It was an unprecedented decision, but it’s paid tremendous dividends for the university.

Northwestern has played four fewer seasons of football than the University of Michigan, but the Wolverines have won nearly 400 more games than the Wildcats. Before Fitzgerald was named head coach, Northwestern’s last win in a bowl game was the 1949 Rose Bowl.

Since 2011, Fitzgerald’s Wildcats have won more games than Nebraska, Texas, UCLA, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Pat Fitzgerald’s biggest moment

Most bowl games in college football are meaningless, sparsely-attended exhibitions where players from both teams get a vacation. Northwestern entered the 2013 Gator Bowl ranked 21st in the country with a 9-3 record, and opened as two point underdogs to an unranked Mississippi State.

64 years had passed since Northwestern’s last win in a bowl game, and this team fought hard to ensure the streak wouldn’t make it to 65.

In Pat Fitzgerald’s own words

After Northwestern’s triumphant bowl win in 2013, Fitzgerald was asked what made his team special. The conversation veered towards the defense – an impressive unit but statistically disappointing.

Fitzgerald offered an observation.

“Frankly though, I think stats are for losers,” he said. “The only stat that matters is wins at the end of the year.”

What are the chances Pat Fitzgerald is the next Packers head coach?

Jon’s Rating: 3/5

I think the Packers will ultimately go with a pro coach, but if they’re going to pick someone from the college ranks, Fitzgerald seems like a reasonable choice given what we know about the Packers.

As an organization, the Packers are not exactly quick to think outside the box. Most of the people who have earned positions of power in Green Bay in recent memory have either been with the organization for some time (Brian Gutekunst, for example) or they’ve had existing connections to the franchise (Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy).

A college coach would be slightly outside those established norms, but as we’ve laid out, Fitzgerald’s connections to Green Bay run deep. If the Packers are looking for stability and the ability to construct a talented staff, Fitzgerald might not be a bad choice.

Gary’s Rating: 4/5

The Packers are casting a large net out for head coaching candidates, and to me, Fitzgerald is the odds-on favorite at this time. As Murphy has become more entrenched in the day-to-day operations on the football side, it wouldn’t be a stretch to envision him hiring Northwestern’s head coach.

Financially, Fitzgerald and Northwestern agreed to a 10-year extension worth $3.6 million annually in 2017. The raise was nice, but Fitzgerald’s salary ranks 8th in his conference and 31st in the NCAA. Mike McCarthy’s salary was reportedly around $6 million with the Packers, so it’s likely Fitzgerald’s demands would be in line with what the Packers could offer.

If Fitzgerald does decide to stay at Northwestern, however, it wouldn’t be surprising. The head coach has spent 23 seasons as a player, assistant or head coach there, and embodies his program in a way very few college coaches can.

But sometimes, the stars align and the opportunity feels right. Perhaps this is it for Pat Fitzgerald.