Pat Fitzgerald’s Overall Positive Coaching Effects

Pat Fitzgerald made his first big public decision of the 2011 season Friday, releasing the team’s Week One depth chart.

To close any argument, Dan Persa is officially the number one quarterback and Kain Colter is the backup. That consternation can (apparently) end as Persa is poised to start in Chestnut Hill. Second, Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy appear to be battling for the starting running back spot. Surprises offensively on the two deep include Christian Jones receiving an OR at Z-wide receiver with Rashad Lawrence. Unsurprisingly Brandon Vitabile is listed as the starting center with Ben Burkett moving to right guard.

Defensively, Tyler Scott is listed as starting opposite Vince Browne at defensive end. David Arnold is listed as the starter at safety opposite Brian Peters.

Jeff Budzien appears to have pulled ahead at kicker in that training camp-long competition.

Knowing Fitzgerald, a lot can still change before next week’s game at Boston College. There, after all, still is no named starter at running back and I am sure Fitzgerald will say every competition is still open and ongoing.  Every Northwestern fan is still waiting for some official word that Dan Persa will start next Saturday. The depth chart certainly is one step forward in some formal announcement.

And really, there were not a whole ton of surprises or changes from the spring two-deep.

There will be bigger decisions to be made once the season gets under way. History shows that Fitzgerald will be able to make them, make them successfully and affect the outcome of several games. I think we are beyond questioning Fitzgerald’s decisions like we might have been earlier in his career (say, like against Duke).

Earlier this week, College Football Matrix took a look at wins as compared to recruiting rankings over the last four years. Using this “expected wins” total they took a look at the actual wins a team produced, giving a bonus for an upset win and taking an amount away for any upset losses.

Pat Fitzgerald ranked second among all Division I coaches with more than four years at their school. Over the last four years, NU has added 11 wins over its expected total. Wake Forest came in first (+12) and fellow Big Ten member Michigan State (+7) also cracked the list at seventh.

We all know Northwestern starts at a very low place in recruiting. Rivals, Scout and just about any recruiting service are usually pretty low on the crop of freshmen NU brings in every year. Anyways, the Cats usually redshirt just about every freshman to help them ease into college football.

The ranking is pretty low — average of 65th from 2008-11 — even though most would agree NU is making inroads in recruiting. What is amazing, and not surprising at least to those who follow the Wildcats closely, is that the Cats play well above their talent. Annually, College Football Matrix estimates NU wins 2.75 more games than their average recruit ranking would expect. That includes a pretty astounding 2.50 more wins than expected on the road.

College Football Matrix attributes these performances above or below expectation on the coaches. After all, the coach is consistent and has been involved in the recruiting process and the team’s formation.

This is a formula that favors teams like Northwestern, who do not bring in top-level talent but still perform well. It should be noted Ron Zook and Illinois rank fifth worst in the rankings, performing 2.5 games per season worse than their recruiting would suggest. Texas Tech was sixth with a -2 per season rating.

Northwestern is also the most likely team to upset you on the road over the last four years — looking at you Io_a. This is a sign of how well Fitzgerald and the coaching staff prepares his team and keeps them together for these tough battles.

As the Wildcats prepare to take on the Eagles next week (who lose one more home game than they are expected to according to College Football Matrix), you can be sure Fitzgerald will have his team prepared. At least, that is what history tells us.



LTP Meet The Team Night Report

LTP will be delivering a post either this evening or tomorrow morning with a recap of Meet The Team Night, which was “by far” the biggest turnout in the history of the event according to Jim Phillips. LTP was there and as fate would have it, the announcement of the boat names will have a small tie-in to his experiences at last night’s events.  Fitz spoke and announced the NU section at BC is sold out for next week’s opener and he introduced the 2011 captains: Dan Persa, Al Netter, Jordan Mabin and Brian Peters. Anyone who was there saw Dan Persa struggle to walk off the stage.   


  • PBRCat

    It really was the largest “Meet the Team” event that I have ever attended. The first time was when Randy Walker was still the coach and it was easy to gain access to such star players as QB Brett Basanez then for autographs or handshakes. I can also recall that in the past the entire team was marched up the stairs to the Terrace and introduced individually to the fans. Last night, that simply was not possible. Only the four captains were introduced.

    While there were numerous activities for those fans with children, overall, I would say that the announcements were much briefer than in former years, possibly on account of the large size of the crowd. The people working the event had to keep the lines moving.

    The West Parking Lot was certainly more crowded than it was in the past for similar events and it appeared that Mustard’s Last Stand was doing a fair amount of business with impatient NU fans who had tired of waiting in line for food atop of Randy Walker Terrace. It was a good showing.

  • Jim B

    I missed Meet the Team Night. Went to the JCA – Carmel game in Joliet instead to watch one of our recruits, Malin Jones. Malin is a solid athlete and will be a contributor to NU based on what I saw last night, BUT he was the 2nd best running back on JCA that night!! I was WAY more impressed by Junior RB Ty Isaac!!

    If anyone gets Comcast Network I believe the game is on Saturday at noon and again on sometime on Monday. Thrilling game in 4th quarter where Issac really stood out. This is arguably the best team either of these teams will play this year. Carmel was ranked #7 and JCA #12.

    It’s only one game but, I suggest we figure out how to entice Mr. Isaac to become a Wildcat!!

  • Philip Rossman-Reich

    Seems like Isaac is getting looked at some pretty big-name schools. Michigan, Illinois, Notre Dame and Ohio State appear interested, according to Rivals. Here is his player profile page:

  • CSCat

    @Jim B – Fitz is way ahead of you…NU has already offered Mr. Isaac. Pretty sure he and Alviti are our top local targets for 2012. Let’s hope Ty and Malin really enjoy playing in the same backfield together.

    Go Cats!

  • Lake The Posts

    @all – anyone watching the Rivals thread? It appears we are about to land a “stud” LB as one poster teased it. Seems to have been deduced to be Jaylen Prater from OH, but that is still speculation and not confirmed. Keep an eye out on FB and Twitter for announcements!

  • Lake The Posts

    @Jim B – thanks for the report. Will work with Fitz51 to see if we can get watches going on ‘Cat commits and key targets in their HS game.

  • Henry in CT

    The reason NU gets better results than the quality of recruits would indicate is very simple: we have had a series of outstanding QB’s from Basenez continuing with Bacher, Kafka and now Persa. Obviously in college football the QB position is so important that an outstanding QB can be the difference between a horrible team and one that posts a winning record with a lot of close wins. It also creates the illusion that a team or program is progressing when in fact it isn’t. Look what happened last year when Persa went down. I hope that the powers that be at NU realize that the long term solution is not to keep finding great QB’s to shore up a weak program but to improve the level of quality of recruits at all positions. Otherwise NU is and will remain a pretender; a program that will not be taken seriously.

  • CSCat

    @Henry – Are you serious? “I hope that the powers that be at NU realize that the long term solution is not to keep finding great QB’s to shore up a weak program but to improve the level of quality of recruits at all positions.” Really? I’m not taking that comment seriously. LOL

  • Philip Rossman-Reich

    Northwestern has been extremely fortunate to have a nice run of solid quarterbacks.

    But you have to remember that the coaching has done a lot to develop them. Mike Kafka could barely run the offense or throw the ball as a redshirt freshman in 2006. He sat on the bench behind C.J. Bacher for a year and a half, still looked bad against Indiana and then took over and played well.

    Dan Persa did not offer us a whole lot of hope that he would be this dominant after struggling in the second half at home against Penn State and doing nothing but really keeping the ship steady against Iowa.

    Kain Colter by all accounts has made some kind of leap at quarterback after really struggling in the last three games last year.

    I think you have to put a lot of that on the coaching. They have done a good job building up the next generation of quarterback. That has helped everything on this team. But so has increasing the talent level in recruiting. NU has done a very very good job in that department and seem only to be getting better.

  • VAWildcat

    @LTP, could you clarify this comment: “Anyone who was there saw Dan Persa struggle to walk off the stage.” Struggle in what sense? He was limping? Unable to walk? That doesn’t sound too good. Or–and this is what I’m hoping you mean–he was mobbed?

  • Mike99

    @LTP – yes, please clarify “struggle to walk off the stage” – that does not sound good, but the way you buried it makes it seem like it’s not a big deal.

  • Lake The Posts

    @VA Wildcat/@Mike 99 – he walked down the stairs gingerly and cautiously. Look, it wasn’t THAT big of a deal. It was just clear that he is not able to do what one would say are very normal things without showing signs/effects of the injury. Could be as simple as the pimp walk. I’m not a Dr. and don’t want to make more of it than I already did.

    I’m already set in my mind that Colter will be getting plenty of reps and that Persa, will not be Persa that we know. He’s said it, McCall has said it and I’m ready to deal with that reality. I still believe he could do great things against BC based on their weak secondary and our WR depth/speed/strength.

  • Philip Rossman-Reich

    @VAWildcat & @Mike99, did not mean to bury the limping story. LTP and I are still figuring out a rhythm for posts. I set this post to go up this morning. LTP should have a recap of the event later today, I believe.

    I will point you to Chris Emma’s post-practice video with Pat Fitzgerald from a few days ago — Fitz said Persa has been fine on the field (it comes at about the 2:30 mark and the 4:30 mark), it is just when he is not playing that the limp seems to become prevalent because he is thinking about his gait.

  • hudhaifa3

    @LTP………..the “PIMP WALK” haha you went there……Dan Persa will show that Swagga pimp walk on the field all year while walking to the sidelines after throwing 38 TD’s….We shall all be accustomed to the Persa Pimp Walk

  • Fitzgerald is Eighteen wins and twenty two losses vs Big 10 competition and used mostly Walkers recruits. to achieve this. Very average coach

  • Walking down stairs isn’t fun if you’re sore. Nor is it fun when you’re being swarmed by 20 kids asking for autographs before you even get down.

  • Philip Rossman-Reich

    @BillShriver I agree, Fitzgerald’s record is not overly impressive. But when you look at what he has accomplished compared to Northwestern history, he has been able to maintain (however brief) the most consistent four-year period in program history.

    NU has been bowl eligible for the last four years and has gone to three straight bowl games. Both of those are program firsts. And as Ron Zook can attest from his time at Florida and Illinois, you might have great recruiting classes, but you still have to coach them up.

    I am very excited to see how Fitzgerald puts his stamp on the program now that most of Walker’s recruits have graduated. NU expects bowl games now. When have we ever been able to say that? But you have to admit, the numbers in the article above and the recruiting buzz we are seeing, Fitz has done an outstanding job energizing this program.

  • Mike

    About the limping down the stairs…

    After an injury to the lower leg (especially an Achilles tear) the immobilization leads to a lot of atrophy in the calf. I saw him rehabbing in SPAC a few times this past month, and his right calf was basically gone. It makes walking down stairs really difficult cause you can’t bare the weight on the balls of your feet like you normally do.

  • gavin

    I have a rehab question for the LTP masses: With Persa doing multiple rehab sessions a day (on top of practices) will, or is it in his best interest physically, get time off before saturday’s game? This isn’t a swipe at his conditioning or anything, I’m thinking more along the lines of power lifting/distance running, taking a day or two to fully rest/recover to peak when needed. Persa’s a freak of an athlete and I trust the med staff to do their thing and rein him in as needed (or not), but I’m just curious if anyone has any idea how this game is played.

  • CSCat

    @ Bill Shriver – yeah, Walker’s recruits – including those stud running backs – Simmons, Concannon and Daniel…talk about three strikes…yuck.

  • Henry in CT

    @ Philip R-R – has our 2012 class ranked #42 which is 7th in the B1G. This better than other years and shows improvement but it is not going to help us catch up with traditional powers in the conference like OSU, PSU and now Nebraska. Since there will be no more sharing titles we may never see another one. I’m not excited about a 50 percent won/loss as being a yearly goal for NU in the B1G.

    Granted Fitz is a good coach and the staff gets as much as possible out of the material but that’s it. Our hopes have been raised up so we want more than moral victories from here on. Just think how great Fitz could be with the material other programs have to work with.

    Several weeks ago there was a discussion here about major programs like Notre Dame reducing entrance requirements to get top recruits. This is apparently the trend everywhere including the B1G but of course not at NU. I simply wondered how long can we afford to not do what our competition is doing and expect to have success. Many top athletes are in school only to play sports. The top national football programs have many such players that would never be candidates to go to a school like NU. Maybe we should bend a little too. Or, maybe all of college football should recognize the hypocracy of the current system.

    If we are going to have success on the field like our future opponent ND expects to have then the powers that be at NU should look at what changes we might have to make in recruiting.

  • Philip Rossman-Reich

    Northwestern definitely tries to have it both ways with the academics and athletics. It really gets into the philosophical battle about college sports. Is the purpose to win or is the purpose to give athletes an opportunity at a top-flight education? It is a very difficult balance that very few schools have achieved. Northwestern can definitely improve the talent level on their team and then see how it goes in the division. I don’t see them ever really compromising on the admissions standards. Again, that is a macro-philosophical argument that the whole NCAA is pretty much going through right now.

  • Raymond Park

    Far too many schools cave into “sports above all” alumni pressure to water down academic standards, and create a big gulf between “student” athletes and the rest of the student body. Fortunately, I don’t see NU listening to those voices, and I’m glad to see they’re in the minority on this and other NU fanboards.

  • VAWildcat

    @PRR, thanks for the clarification, and I apologize for addressing my earlier question to LTP. I didn’t realize this was your post. That’s indicated on the main page, but I didn’t look at that, and when posts are opened it doesn’t appear that the “poster” is identified. Might be something to address on the site.

    As for how good a coach Fitz is, I’m one fan who doesn’t measure success solely by won-loss percentages, and the way I look at it Fitz is a great coach, combining field wins with outstanding academic achievement and high ethical/moral standards. If you don’t think these are important, I don’t really see the point in being a fan of NU. If we ever lowered our standards, I’d stop caring, I’d stop attending/watching, and I’d stop contributing to the university.

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