Northwestern fires instructor Pat Fitzgerald amid fallout from Haze investigation

Northwestern has fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald, University President Michael Shill said in a letter to the Northwestern community on Monday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Fitzgerald was initially suspended for two weeks after a summary of the investigation’s findings was made public Friday.
  • On Saturday, Schill said in a statement that it “may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction” for Fitzgerald. Daily Northwest Earlier in the day it announced new details surrounding the disturbing allegations.
  • On Monday, Schill wrote that the decision to relieve Fitzgerald of his duties “came after a difficult and complex evaluation of my original disciplinary decision imposed last week against Coach Fitzgerald for failing to recognize and prevent significant disruption in the football program.”
  • Schill said the leadership for the upcoming football season will be announced in the coming days. Northwestern is expected to name defensive coordinator David Brown as the coordinator for the football program, according to multiple reports.

What else did Shill say?

Schill wrote Monday that in the past 72 hours, he has “spent a great deal of time in thought and discussion with people who love our university — the chair and members of our Board of Trustees, faculty leadership, students, alumni and Coach Fitzgerald . . .”

“While I appreciate the feedback and will consider it in my decision-making, ultimately, the decision to suspend Coach Fitzgerald in the first place was mine and mine, as was the decision to part ways with him,” Schill wrote.

“While the report of the independent investigation remains confidential, it is important for our community to know the facts,” Schill said in the letter.

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During the investigation, he wrote, 11 current or former Northwestern football players admitted to hazing in the football program, adding, “In new media reports today, several more former Northwestern football student-athletes confirmed that hazing has been systemic for years.”

Schill said the acts included “forced participation, nudity and sexually degrading acts in clear violation of Northwestern principles and values”.

“I am grateful that – to my knowledge – no student has suffered physical injury as a result of these behaviors,” he wrote. “Some student-athletes believed the hazing was humorous and harmless, while others believed it caused significant harm with long-term effects.”

In addition, Schill wrote, “The program is well-known to many, although the investigator found no credible evidence that Coach Fitzgerald knew about it” and Schill recently learned many of the details of the independent investigation and spoke with them. Complainant and his parents.

“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” Schill wrote. “The fog we investigated was widespread and there wasn’t a secret within the program, giving Coach Fitzgerald an opportunity to know what was going on.

“Either way, the culture of Northwestern football, while incredible in some ways, is broken in others.”

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What Fitzgerald said

Fitzgerald wrote in a statement Monday that he and Schill have come to “mutual agreement regarding an appropriate resolution” to the investigation’s findings. Fitzgerald said he was “surprised” to learn that Shill “unilaterally terminated our contract without any notice and then terminated my employment.”

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“Due to this unexpected turn of events, I have entrusted my agent Brian Harlan and legal counsel Dan Webb of Winston & Strawn LLP to take the necessary steps to protect my rights under the law,” he wrote.

Fitzgerald, a former Wildcat, also said he “dedicated myself wholeheartedly to developing our players not only as athletes, but as exemplary students and members of the community.”

Fitzgerald wrote that attorney Maggie Hickey “conducted a thorough investigation over several months into the allegations that led to my termination.”

“His investigation reaffirmed what I have always maintained — that I knew nothing of any collusion within the Northwestern football program,” the statement said.

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Backstory

In a summary of the study’s findings released Friday, Northwestern said “participation or knowledge of hazing activities was widespread among football players,” but the investigation found no evidence of misconduct by a specific football player or coach. Additionally, investigators did not find “sufficient evidence” that the coaching staff knew about the hazing. However, investigators found significant opportunities to detect and report hazing.

A day later, Schill reversed his decision to give Fitzgerald a two-week suspension.

“In determining the appropriate punishment for the head coach, I have given much consideration to the report’s conclusion that what he did not know and what he should have known was insufficient,” Schill said in a letter to the Northwestern community.

“As the head coach of one of our athletic programs, Coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program, but must be very focused on upholding our institutional commitment to the student experience and enabling all students – undergraduate and graduate – to thrive during their time at Northwestern. Clearly, he has failed to uphold that commitment, And I failed to adequately consider that failure to grant permission.

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The summary revealed that the complainant’s allegations were that the football players pressured team members, often in the locker room, to participate in hateful activities. According to the complainant, the fog may have started at Camp Kenosha in Kenosha, Wis., where the team conducts training camp.

A former player told the Daily Northwestern Haze includes forced sexual acts.

Shill said he got the complainant’s name, spoke to his family and apologized for what he had encountered.

“I was moved by what I heard from his family and the impact the haze had on their son. In the coming days, I will engage with university leadership, including the leadership of the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate, and will keep you informed of any developments as we evaluate future actions,” Schill wrote.

Fitzgerald was preparing for his 18th season after being hired in 2006 following the sudden death of former coach Randy Walker. He compiled a 110-101 record during his 17-year tenure and went 5-5 in 10 bowl game appearances. The Wildcats finished 1-11 last season, the program’s lowest mark since 1989.

Northwestern begins the 2023 season at Rutgers on Sept. 3.

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(Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today)

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