July 23, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
PAT FITZGERALD: Obviously a great honor and a privilege for me to be here as the head football coach at Northwestern. Seems like yesterday that I started off the first year, and now 13 years later, time sure does fly.
I appreciate what you all do for our game, for Northwestern, for the Big Ten Conference and most especially for our players. Obviously the branding opportunities that they get and the stories and their personal stories and journeys that you tell about them and their families are ones that they'll live with for a lifetime.
We appreciate absolutely all you do. I'd like to welcome Scott Frost to the Big Ten. Obviously it's great to only have one coaching change. It's pretty rare to only have one. So it's great to only have one. And I want to welcome Scott and his family to the Big Ten Conference.
Exciting times in Evanston. I'm so proud of our young men. Another stellar academic year team GPA of 3.2. Team record. And obviously led the conference in academic All Big Ten performers and distinguished scholars and led the nation in APR in graduation success rates. We do not take that for granted. It's the young men that we recruit. It's the families that we recruit. It's great academic support and we're absolutely incredibly proud of the job our young men do.
Obviously it's been well documented about our new home, Walter Athletics Center and Ryan Fieldhouse. We've been in there for roughly about five and a half weeks now, and to see the improvement and efficiency and the day-to-day opportunities for our guys as we're now fully integrated to our campus.
We're not quite sure how great it's going to be yet this fall because this summer's been absolutely spectacular. We're incredibly thankful and grateful for our great president, Morty Schapiro; our trustees; the best director of athletics in Jim Phillips; and amazing donor families and we look forward to obviously making everyone proud that made that a reality. When I walked in there the first day, the first thing that jumped out to me were the young men that played here and the coaches that played here before us.
We stand upon their shoulders and we're incredibly grateful for the opportunity to move into what's been documented as the best facility in college athletics.
Now to have the longest winning streak in FBS football right now with eight, going into the opener obviously is going to be a huge challenge against Purdue. And our 27 wins over the last three years is our program's best.
And so a lot of positive momentum obviously in the classroom and on the field, and excited for next Wednesday when we get together and get the season started.
Couple of thank yous, first and foremost, to Jerry Brown, our great retired assistant head football coach with us for 25 years. I wish him and Denise a great retirement and a ton of fun. And Randy Bates, our great linebacker coach, has moved on to the opportunity to be DC at Pitt.
With those two guys departing us, we're very thankful to them and their families, but incredibly excited to add Jeff Genyk as our special teams coordinator. Jeff was my coach in my last college game. It's his third stop at Northwestern, and he'll coordinate our special teams. And bringing Lou Ayeni in to coach our running backs, who I had the privilege to coach, and was one of our GAs, along with Timmy McGarigle, who will coach our linebackers and who had the privilege to recruit and coach and was one of our GAs. Great to have.
Although what looks like change from the outside, great continuity bringing back guys with fresh ideas with those that have been a part of the Wildcat family in the past. Excited to have them be a part of our football family again.
We've had a great summer. We've set numbers of records, personal bests in the weight room. Jay Hooten and his staff have done a terrific job. Look forward to hopefully taking that work we've done now since January and kicking the season off the right way as we get going next Wednesday. Thank you for all that you do.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Paddy Fisher named to the preseason honors. What do you make of the narratives that have labeled him as a mini you or a baby Fitz?
PAT FITZGERALD: I don't think that's fair for him. He's a much better athlete. Paddy Fisher is an absolute terrific football player. You look at his body of work from just one season, I think it speaks for itself.
He's a big man. He's all, of course, 245 pounds. He can run, and he's obviously very physical. He's got a great football IQ. That comes from his pedigree in high school, one of the powerhouse programs in the country from Katy, Texas. Just so proud of him in year one and look forward to him to continue to grow and get better.
Q. You mentioned the longest FBS winning streak right now. Tough first game against Purdue. Last year you guys started 2-3. How big is it for you guys to take that momentum, from last season, which is tough, and hit the ground running this year against Purdue?
PAT FITZGERALD: I knocked that out of my memory, so let's not talk about the beginning of last year. It was a tough start, two years in a row, frankly. And prior to that we won every opener and had been very competitive I think earlier in the year.
You look at everything in the offseason, especially when you've been at a place as long as I have. You look at the way you practice. You look at the way you train: Do we give our guys enough rest, do we feel like we're out of training camp going. There's all the things that you overanalyze. But I think you hang your hat on your process and you really talk at length with your players.
You heighten the awareness of what we need to do, and obviously you have the challenge of the opener of going on the road, playing an incredibly well-coached team. Coach Brohm and his staff did an outstanding job last year. We already knew they were very talented at Purdue from the years we played them in the past. But that glue got all put together a year ago. And to have it in the opener will be a huge challenge for us on the road.
But with a challenge comes an opportunity. And I expect our guys to prepare properly in camp, and I don't really need to motivate them a whole lot. I think we know what the task is that is at hand.
Q. What are your goals for your opening game?
PAT FITZGERALD: Goals for the opening game is to find a way to win. I've been doing this long enough to keep it simple. You know, as I look at that challenge, like I said earlier, it's going to be huge. I mean, anytime you go on the road to play a conference opponent, regardless if it's September or November, it's a huge challenge. And we know what the task is at hand.
Q. With sports betting now becoming legal in several states and it's probably going to be legal in more states moving forward, is it important for college football programs to become more transparent with their injuries?
PAT FITZGERALD: I think it's, first and foremost, important that we educate our guys and the understanding of the issues that surround gambling and understand from a standpoint of what may end up happening to them in dorms, people asking them questions that maybe they've never been asked before. These new instant friends that they have as true freshmen, things of that nature. So the education piece is really going to be important.
You know, we have an injury report at Northwestern that we've done for a number of years. I've been accused of sometimes being honest and sometimes being less than honest.
I would agree with that. You know, quite frankly. But if we move forward to where we have to have a fully transparent conference-wide or national one, I'd have no problem with that, as long as we adhere to it.
There needs to be accountability. If there's not accountability to it, then I'll do whatever I have to do to protect our players, first and foremost, and protect our program second, in full disclosure of transparency.
Q. Pat, seems every year at this event people are talking about the East versus the West and kind of the power balance there about which side of the division is stronger. In your opinion, playing in the West, do you feel that the West is beginning to catch up, or do you feel that there are things that have happened in the West facilities or coaches that have reshaped the way the west looks?
PAT FITZGERALD: You know, Mike, it's a great question. I heard it asked earlier when I was eating my lunch. I think there's great competitive balance top to bottom in this league.
As I look at where we're at in the West right now, I think there's incredibly well-coached football teams. As I mentioned about adding Scott this year, you look at the success he's had the last few years, unbelievable. And Nebraska has always been a powerhouse, and they'll be back. I know that, as a college football fan first.
You look at everybody in our conference, I think we're as competitive as anywhere in the country. We've got a winning record in the last few years against the East. So we're doing our part. We've just got to get to Indy to really do our part. That's obviously the next task at hand.
Q. Obviously replacing Justin Jackson is no easy task. What have you seen from the running backs in the offseason, your expectations for them moving forward?
PAT FITZGERALD: You can't replace Justin Jackson. That's impossible. I've been fortunate to be here at Northwestern for a number of years where I've had a number of backs like Justin. I was texting with Tyrell Sutton a few weeks ago coming back to be an honorary captain.
When I was up here, I was asked about him: How do you replace Tyrell? You just don't. That footprint in the sand is so large. It's now somebody's opportunity. I think we saw a lot of Jeremy Larkin last year. I think his yards for carry might have been better than Saquon's. Maybe a little smaller body of work, but just as explosive. I thought the bowl game was a really good showing by him.
Two years ago John Moten had a great campaign, battled through injuries. And we've got more guys that as we move through camp I think we've got great competitive depth there, and I expect that room to be very competitive from the standpoint of not only who is going to start but who is going to play, not only in the backfield but a lot of different roles for our offense and our football team in the kicking game.
Q. This new redshirt rule that comes into play this year, how does that affect you guys, and how do you guys plan to utilize that?
PAT FITZGERALD: I'm fired up about that rule. I think there's a lot of coaches in the country excited about it. First of all, it's great for players. I was one of those really below-average guys that played as a true freshman. I was the best of the worst. And it was not a very good experience for our defense when I was out there. I would have been a lot better if I only played in four games, I promise you that.
But you talk to any young man you recruit, they all want to play. The hardest year for any young player is the year that he sits out as he comes into college. So now that we have the opportunity to motivate them through the opportunity to play and then still have that redshirt in our place, the opportunity to go to graduate school at Northwestern, you know, it's still really sacred to me. So I'll make sure that I manage that the right way.
But as we get into really the meat of October and November, I think it gives us an opportunity when maybe we have some guys that are banged up the opportunity to maybe plug a guy in here or there to continue to have us have competitive depth, especially in a place like Northwestern, we've got 27 great young men that walk on, that group gets added to the mix, too, along with our scholarship players from a standpoint of opportunity to hopefully bolster our special teams if not anything else. So I think it's great from a health and safety standpoint. And also obviously for us for the flexibility from a coaching standpoint, it's huge.
Q. Given the way many of us got to know you, which was as kind of unheralded player who helped lead Northwestern's initial push to the Rose Bowl and all of that, the underdog narrative, so to speak, has always really seemed to suit you. So now you've got this best facilities in the land. It's a completely different place to come from. Does leading from the front, so to speak, does that suit you too? How do you feel you'll do with that?
PAT FITZGERALD: I think it's a little bit quick for leading from the front. We haven't won any Big Ten championships in a while. I think it comes down to the products you put on the field. It comes to support. It shows we're all in as a program. We made a total commitment to our athletes. Maybe we're in the past and you think especially the guys that played for us in the '70s and '80s that commitment was not there.
And now to see the leadership at our university step up and make that type of commitment, I believe gives us an opportunity to compete for championships now at a consistent basis. And that's always been my expectation, but now this gives us an opportunity in my opinion to be able to do that.
It's one thing to be consistently a bowl team, consistently successful on the field. It's another thing to consistently compete for championships. And we're not there yet. But I believe this commitment to our facilities but most importantly to our student-athletes gives us every opportunity to do that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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