Big Ten Conference Football Media Days

Tuesday July 25, 2017

Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

PAT FITZGERALD: Good morning, everyone. Thank you to all the great media that covers the Big Ten. It's amazing. It's my 12th now up here on the dais, and to have the opportunity to address you as the head football coach is a great honor and privilege here in the Big Ten. Thank you for what you do and all the things you cover, our student-athletes, our programs and great Big Ten Conference.

Looking forward to 2017, just like every coach in the country. We're trying to build off the momentum we had a season ago, and we had a great win at the Pinstripe Bowl. The way we finished the season, especially the last nine games, gained positive momentum into the bowl game.

Now going to 2017 to try to win a bowl game in back-to-back years, first time in program history. We've got a lot of excitement when it comes to that. That's the way our guys have prepared through January, all the way through here as we wrap up our last week of summer workouts.

So trying to build on those positives, especially offensively. Last year, the last nine games of the season we averaged a little over 30 points, about 30.3 in comparison to our first four games that we were sitting about 16.3.

So carrying that momentum now into 2017 with players like Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson, who are here with me, I think obviously that type of star power in your backfield gives you a great opportunity to be excited.

And then to look at the job that our staff has done. We're kind of a unicorn in college football. Had the same staff now together going on eight seasons. It's just been absolutely incredible. Had the same coordinators for ten years, same strength coach for nine. It's unheard of. That continuity I think is what great organizations, great football programs have.

You're able to be able to keep your people, be able to grow and develop. And thankful for the staff's loyalty, but also incredibly thankful for the university's loyalty and commitment to the staff.

Excited to be in Evanston for a long time, very thankful for our contract extension that's going keep our program going in the same trajectory, and that's to be a championship-level program. Can't thank Jim Phillips and President Schapiro and Chairman Osborn enough for their trust and their commitment to not only myself but more importantly to our program, to our coaches and to our student-athletes.

And you look at that and then where we're at right now from a facility standpoint. We'll be up at Hutcheson Field all through training camp. The Walter Athletic Complex now is almost done completely with its steel, and we'll be in there next May. And Ryan Fieldhouse will be ready and operational this December.

To see that type of commitment from the university -- has never been done before in our program's history, so to see that along with the excitement we have on the field, just cannot be thankful enough.

For our young men, I get the privilege to coach the best and brightest in college football every single day. We had another unbelievable year academically. Led the conference in the country in APR, graduation rates, and team GPA of 3.15. Just incredibly proud of what our young men accomplish on a day-to-day basis but especially academically.

Exciting time in Evanston. Looking forward to go on August 5th.

The NCAA obviously changed a lot of rules when it comes to training camp this year. A lot of them I think are positive. We really only had about three two-a-days maybe the last eight years or so and have been pretty successful for the most part in the opener.

So I think we've got a pretty good plan. We won't have to adjust that much. But one of the areas that the NCAA did allow is a week waiver that you can come in early. And we've got a unique academic calendar. We're on the quarter system at Northwestern. I sat down with our leadership council and said, "Guys, I can bring you in right away after summer school or we can take our traditional week to recharge and reenergize and show up for camp on August 5th, maybe come in a day early or two days early." That's what we decided to do.

So we'll be one of the last teams probably to start training camp, but it's the right thing to do. We have a great plan as far as practices. We're tweaking some things down the road as far as how we're going to go about that plan to make up those practices. But I thought it was really important to let our guys recharge and reenergize before we get going in camp.

Thankful for all that you do, and look forward to answering any questions you may have.

Q. Couple minutes ago P.J. mentioned you took him out to lunch about 10 years ago. What do you remember about that, and did you see him being here with you at that point?
PAT FITZGERALD: I saw a guy that was very driven. He wanted to learn and grow and ask me questions about how I manage things as a young head football coach and how I do things on a day-to-day basis with the staff, all the way to the players, everything in between. Two Chicago guys, and obviously his relationship with Jim Phillips and some other coaches that I knew. We never worked together, obviously didn't play together with him playing at Northern. But just very happy for him and his family. He's worked hard. He's earned it.

The great success they had at Western, and now to have the opportunity that he has at a great university like Minnesota, couldn't be happier for the guy and for his family, and I'm sure he'll do a great job.

Q. You've had teams that have lost bowl games and won bowl games. How has this team reacted to the big win at Yankee Stadium? And which do you prefer? If they lose, are they hungrier in the offseason?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yes, I'd much rather win. No doubt about that. We've been in some -- you've covered them. We've been in some amazing bowl games that have been nail-biters and lost. Had some tough ones like a couple years ago in Tampa when we didn't play very well. Played an outstanding opponent last year in Pitt.

I think the guys realized maybe through our experience early in the year we maybe came into the season not in the health we wanted to be and we had to tweak some. I didn't manage it very well. As we got our edge back midway through the season, we carried it through the bowl prep. And the guys saw the return on the investment, and that momentum carried over really through offseason workouts and then to spring ball.

And probably an area that I haven't talked about but as I look at it the momentum that Chris and the basketball team was then able to carry just for the athletic department and for the university, we've never had that before. And now to be able to continue that momentum, seemed like we had great things going in football. And then it slowed down a little bit until maybe we got to the spring sports and Kelly's amazing runs or Claire's amazing runs with tennis and lacrosse and things of that nature.

So I think it's a really special time to be on our campus. When you've got kind of your men's basketball and football I think in a really good place, it really makes things exciting. So I think our guys are so close with the basketball players and to see that, I think all those things are real positives.

But the gist of your question, I would definitely much rather win that game. There's no doubt about that. I think each year is different. That's a funeral and a birth all at the same time when you walk in that locker room. That team dies and the new team is born simultaneously. So each year is a little different, but that positive momentum is huge.

Q. In opening week, specific question, you're facing a Nevada team with a new coach, new quarterback, new offensive system. How do you prepare for a situation like that when you really haven't seen what they're doing, or do you look at what Coach Norvell's offense did at Arizona State last year? What's the preparation when you are facing a team you're really not sure what you're going to see?
PAT FITZGERALD: Great question. We've had to do this quite a bit, quite frankly, especially in nonconference play when there's quite a bit of turnover sometimes in some of the group of five or even some of the FCS coaches that we've had to play against and they've had staff changes.

It's a big challenge. No question about that. You've gotta do a ton of research, try to overturn every stone you can find on every aspect. You probably get a little bit of paralysis by analysis. You probably look at too much. You probably overprepare, especially when you're playing new coaches.

But I think a few years ago, all of -- I think every new Big Ten opponent that we played in the year and every nonconference opponent had a new coach and new coordinator. We've been down this road before. And our staff, we've got a great plan in what we need to do, but it's definitely more challenging I believe on us.

It will be a big advantage for Nevada, no doubt.

Q. What was your first reaction when the school came to you with the new marketing campaign, #homegrown? And how much influence did you have on your video? Was the Orland Park Water Tower, was that up to you?
PAT FITZGERALD: That's kind of not really what I'm excited about in my role, but I'll do whatever the marketing department asks me to do, with a little bit of an asterisk. I just want to coach the team. But I get it and I understand what our roles are and what we need to do.

I'm very proud to be a Chicagoan. I'm very proud of playing at Northwestern and being from Orland Park. I think it's a pretty cool campaign, especially with you look at our two superstars in the backfield with Clayton and Justin both being Chicagoans, and Chris Collins being from Chicagoland too.

I think I'll look a lot tougher than Chris in my billboards with actually having a neck roll compared to his schmedium tank top that he'll have on in his billboard. But that's okay. He can shoot a 3-pointer; I can bench press. Lot of differences there.

But, no, I think it's a great campaign. I think it makes a lot of sense. And do I get excited about those types of things? No, I get excited about teaching and blocking and tackling.

Q. With Anthony Walker getting taken by the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, who do you think is going to need to step up the most in the linebacking corps to replace his production from last year?
PAT FITZGERALD: I don't think you can ever replace a player like that. That's the neat thing about college football. Every year, 20, 25 percent of your team graduates, and now you've got to replace it from a standpoint of freshmen coming in, but then new opportunity for guys that have been in the program. Nathan Fox and Paddy Fisher are the two guys currently that are competing for that role on our defense.

But I like the core. I like what I've seen from Nate Hall. As I look at what Brett Walsh has done throughout his career, I think Brett right now is our leader in that room from the standpoint of what he's not only overcome throughout his career from an injury standpoint but also the production he's had. And the game that Nate Hall has, I think he's really dynamic and special athlete.

And we moved Warren, Warren Long over from running back. And he's a physical presence out there. And then Jango Glackin has had a really good offseason. We'll see how things progress with the group. As we sit here right now, that's going to be a great competition between Nathan and Paddy, and we'll see how that unfolds as camp goes on.

Q. You played with passion. You teach defense with passion. It's evident. But yet in March the NCAA decided to basically table the targeting rule for this year. As an energetic defensive guy, how do you feel about the targeting rule and would you like to see changes in that rule?
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, I think you're right, I mean, I love defensive football. And my eyes go to certain positions, just like you would as any head coach, maybe with what your background is.

But I think that rule is good for the game. I think it's good for players' safety. It was a play that we needed to take out of our game, and the only way you're going to take it out is, A, through coaching. And then obviously the rule changes and having the accountability that there needed to be to make sure that young men, when they violate the rule, are held accountable.

Is losing a game maybe an extreme? Maybe potentially, but I start to see that play really being diminished in our game. And I think that's very positive. I think we maybe need to take a look at repeat offenders. I think if a young man has multiple targeting fouls, maybe as a conference or maybe even the NCAA needs to step in, and as the great coaches out there, either you're coaching it or you're allowing it to happen, which one is it.

When you look at it across the board, if it's an anomaly play and it's a bang, bang, that is what it is and unfortunately the young man is going to lose the rest of the game or maybe the first half of the next game. If you see a young man or maybe a team that has multiple targeting fouls, I think we need to look at that. Because obviously that's not what we have decided to have in our game. And why is that happening and maybe have some accountability from that standpoint, maybe to even make the rule a little bit more robust.

Q. You are one of a number of schools building new facilities. What type of correlation do you think there's going to be between the things you're building and recruiting?
PAT FITZGERALD: You can look up on blog sites -- right now I'm not allowed to talk about it, but you can see where the recruiting is at. It's at an all-time high. Young men want to play for a winner, want to get a great education and be prepared for life. And, quite frankly, they want to see commitment from universities and fans that they're going to support your program and the experience.

This is for our program, from the standpoint of university support, one of the last few pieces of the puzzle we really need. We're far from the finished product in Evanston, and now to have the Walter Athletic Complex and Ryan Field and Hutcheson Field and Wilson Field and the indoor all the great facilities we're about to have give us a chance to compete for a recruit maybe we never had an opportunity to get.

But that's brick and mortar. It's still all about people. I think that's what separates our program from a lot, is that we have great young men in the locker room, we have an amazing group of guys. And young people want to be around that.

I think the word "culture" gets overused. I think that's in every leadership book now in the world. I think if you bring the right people in you've got the right type of environment and you've got the right guys, they're going to own your program. And that's got to come from the locker room out.

Until I think I'm done coaching, that's the model I want to have. I want to have our program player-run and player-owned. And when we get recruits around our young men, that's really our number one selling point. Now to have the facilities on top of that, to be able to compete, it gives us an opportunity to get a young man maybe we never had the chance to get. So it's a game-changer.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #1 by #206 at 2017-07-25 14:58:00 GMT

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