Update: Teddy Greenstein broke the news that Fitz’s salary is estimated to be in the $1.8M per year range. Note that I gave that credit to Teddy and not Chris Deluca. Check out the Twitter spat that ensued today between the Chitown paper rivals over which one of them broke the news on the contract extension. The blog Foul Balls has all of the back-and-forth tweets here which is quite hilarious to follow.
As expected, Northwestern officially announced yet another new contract for Pat Fitzgerald today. This deal is a 10-year contract that technically locks Fitz on the NU sidelines through 2020. NU AD Jim Phillips has been working on the deal since right after the Ticket City Bowl when Michigan floated overtures about Fitz’s interest through a trusted source. Surprisingly, Fitz denied that Michigan approached him as Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald wrote about here. Technically that might be true as the school did not officially approach him but rather used a former Michigan player to make contact with him. Regardless, this deal is yet another major effort by Phillips on top of his previous contract extension and increased pay, to show that he wants Fitz here for life. If Fitz can lead NU to the type of year we’re expecting this season, the drumbeat of big name schools will continue to happen including Penn State as Fitz’s name is a popular one on message boards and among Nittany Lions fans as a potential JoePa successor.
The real win here for Fitz was the increase in assistant coaches’ salaries. This winter Northwestern suffered a tad of a black eye when former NU OC and current Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson pilfered NU WR coach Kevin Johns. It is no secret that NU wanted to keep Johns but didn’t have the funds to compete with Indiana. When you’re losing out to Indiana on assistant coaches, the alarm bells go off pretty quickly. The other obvious marketing tool in the tool box here is the commitment to facilities. The Populous study is close to completion and the price tags are soon to be put on the a la carte menu of NU Athletics facilities with Ryan Field and football practice facilities at the top of the priority list along with Welsh-Ryan Arena. It was no mistake that the carefully worded press release highlighted this facility upgrade almost as much as the contract. You can see the full release here, but the key marketing angle by Phillips included this nod to the upgrade:
“Northwestern is committed to giving our football program all the necessary resources to do tremendous things on and off the field. We certainly are excited to receive the results from our Master Facility Plan which will help direct the next steps regarding our athletic facilities.” – Jim Phillips, May 10, 2011
Fitz is clearly excited about this and who wouldn’t be? He gets the resources to retain and attract assistant coaches, the facilities promise to compete with the top flight programs and of course more dough. Fitz also put himself out there in a good way in his statement by inviting the fan base to “expect to compete for championships.”
“I’m humbled and appreciative of the commitment shown by Northwestern” said Fitzgerald. “With this support from our administration, our coaches and players expect to compete for championships.” – Pat Fitzgerald, NU Press Release, May 10, 2011.
Northwestern’s private school status enables the university to keep the terms and dollar amounts of Fitz’s contract under wraps, but Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune had his previos contract estimated in the $1M-$1.5M per year range. That was a far cry from the top ranks of the conference where guys like Jim Tressel and Kirk Ferentz are reportedly pulling in the $3.7M range and Ferentz, according to USA Today has a potential of a $1.75M max bonus (see entire coaches salary list according to USA Today here). You’ve got to wonder if that bonus now is for beating Northwestern. Fitz was likely in the 7th or so ranking range in terms of contract, ahead of Tim Brewster, Danny Hope, Bill Leach and even potentially Joe Paterno ($1.1M), but the stakes continue to change as Kevin Wilson at Indiana reportedly got a $1.2M per year salary with all kinds of bonus incentives which is double what Bill Leach was making.
Overall, this is a good thing. However, with increased commitment comes increased expectations. Fitz has now got the program completely shaped with his imprint and has enough learning curve behind him that the on-field wins and losses need to continue. There isn’t a fan out there who doesn’t think is the model citizen in terms of what a coach should be – emphasizing leadership, molding players and cultivating an environment of academic excellence (NU continues to best its own academic marks for football players including an amazing 3.02 team GPA average this past semester). Now, Fitz needs to help the program take that next leap to competing for championships, as he said. The program is at a point where consistent above average performance is expected. The ‘Cats are looking to build upon the school record streak of three consecutive bowl games, but they must also break an increasingly infamous streak of losing bowl games (currently 8) as a start.
You’ve got to think this is truly a dream job for Fitz, the former ‘Cat standout linebacker and two-time Bronko Nagurski Defensive Player of the Year award winner. While expectations are rising from an increasingly more demanding fan base, NU is hardly the pressure cooker of big time SEC programs. If you go 8-4 and win bowl games (9-5) you’ll get extension after extension. An 8-4 season in the state of Alabama and you’re on notice. That being said, we all take pride in the clean factor of the program. Never a hint of impropriety or scandal on Fitz’s watch. Yet, every day around the country the foettotball news wire seems to be intertwined with a police blotter. Granted, NU is not perfect and I’m certain there are some screw-ups that we haven’t heard about, but there is no bigger pride we have then when one of our players goes to the postgame interview stand after a “w”.
This isn’t just a homer stance on Fitz. LTP blog-crush, Presnap Read goes pretty far down this road with the Fitz-next-JoePa angle here today in his post. Fitz isn’t just the face of the program, he’s becoming the face of the entire university. By the time this contract ends, if all goes well, Fitz will likely be in the team photo of longest tenured football coaches in the entire country. Considering the way he leads the program, isn’t that a good thing for him to be the front porch to the top-ranked academic school in the Big Ten and a perennial top ranked school in all of BCS land?
The most positive takeaway here is the fact that NU is indeed putting their money where their mouth is in terms of commitment. Increased salaries, assistant coaches salary pool increases and the major granddaddy of ‘em all facilities renovations point to substance and not sizzle. There is a small but vocal minority of this readership that doesn’t buy NU’s commitment to athletics. Well, I think when we get news of the depth of the facilities overhaul it will be the final stake in that argument.
The bottom line is that I love this move. Fitz is 34-29 overall with 24 of those wins coming over the past three seasons. He will likely become the all-time wins leader by the end of next season or early in the 2013 season at the latest. Fitz is one win behind Gary Barnett (35-45-1), two behind Ara Parseghian (36-35-1) and 16 wins away from surpassing the all-time leader, Pappy Waldorf (49-45-1). Two of those three (Barnett, Waldorf) coaches share an honor that Fitz has yet to achieve – they’ve won at least one conference title. There is no doubt Fitz is the right guy for this job and no one else I’d want to run the program at this point in our history and his history. All of this off the field reinforcement now sets the stage for a no excuses on field performance review moving forward. I’m eerily confident that this is the year we make that leap we’ve all been waiting for and perhaps even win the division.
The final hurdle for NU to overcome its image challenge, a now 16-year and counting effort, is to pack Ryan Field with purple. ‘Cats fans still get mocked by opposing fans and I’m certain opposing coaches based on the (lack of) gameday atmosphere. This is one place that you actually have control. We’ve gone a full week now without any new season ticket holders. That’s got to change. Let’s work together to leverage yet another piece of timely news to step up and bring someone new in under the tent. Who will step up and get the next shout out?
What They’re Saying…
- Chicago Tribune
- Chicago Sun-Times – most in-depth
- ESPN.com CFB blog
- Daily Herald (yesterday) - actual interview with Fitz – must read
LTP N Flag Project
In case you haven’t visited in awhile, be sure to click on the LTP N Flag Project tab on the navigation bar and then click on the first link to the map. My man Tim in NC has worked hard to get every flag up on the map and he is also currently working at embedding the map on to that sub-page so you can see it right away. I need your help double checking the maps to see if a)I may have missed your submission or b)that I have duplicates on the map. There are 192 flags to date and we’ll continue to highlight the many submissions that came in during the past year. Here are a few more shout outs: