Pat Fitzgerald became the Northwestern University Wildcats head football coach in 2006 after Randy Walker, the former head coach, died. Before assuming the head coach duties, Pat served as Northwestern’s linebackers coach on the defensive end of the ball from 2001 to 2005. Despite a 0-2 record in postseason bowl games, Coach Fitzgerald has enjoyed a fair degree of success in leading the Wildcats to a record over 500 (27-22) while competing in the challenging Big Ten Conference.
Before signing with Northwestern in 2001 as an assistant coach, Fitzgerald coached linebackers at the University of Maryland (1998), the University of Colorado (1999) and the University of Idaho (2000) before joining the Northwestern Wildcats in 2001. Northwestern in located in Evanston, Illinois, which is a tributary suburb of Chicago’s north shore on Lake Michigan. For Coach Fitzgerald, the coach transfer to the Chicago land area was a bit of a homecoming, as the distinguished coach was born in the southwest Chicago suburb of Orland Park and played his own college football for Northwestern.
Before Pat transitioned from linebacker coach to head coach, his predecessor was a man named Randy Walker who coached the Wildcats from 1999 to 2005. Coach Walker was responsible for hiring his eventual successor. During Walker’s time in charge of the program, his team was 37-46 and his best year was the 2000 season when the team was 8-4 and captured a portion of the Big Ten Conference title before being thrashed by the University of Nebraska. 66-17 at the Alamo Bowl on December 30, 2000. Sadly, Coach Walker died abruptly from a heart attack on June 29, 2006 at the relatively young age of 52.
On July 7, 2006, just over a week since the shocking death of coach Randy Walker, Northwestern University appointed longtime program assistant Pat Fitzgerald as the new head coach. At the time of the announcement, Pat Fitzgerald was just 31 years old. At just 31 years old, Pat was at the time the youngest head coach in Division I soccer for more than five years.
In his youth, Pat was a standout player for the Northwestern Wildcats from 1993 to 1996, where he was twice honored as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as linebacker. After graduating, Fitzgerald briefly considered an NFL career while playing for the Dallas Cowboys in 1997 before deciding that his true calling was to coach.
During his four-year tenure, Pat Fitzgerald is making Northwestern a relevant football team in the Big Ten Conference that is often dominated by players like Ohio State, Penn State, and the University of Iowa. After inheriting a team that had Going 4-8 in his first season through effective recruiting, Coach Fitzgerald has improved the program to 9-4 in 2008 and 8-4 in 2009.