Northwestern University fired Pat Fitzgerald, its longtime head football coach, on Monday after an investigation found his players had engaged in widespread hazing, including forced nudity and sexualized acts.
His firing came three days after the university said Fitzgerald, who had been the Wildcats’ head coach since 2006, would be suspended for two weeks without pay after the investigation found the hazing allegations to be credible.
Michael Schill, the president of Northwestern, said in a sentence that the decision to fire the 48-year-old Fitzgerald came “after a difficult and complex evaluation” of his previous discipline and after discussions with the board of trustees, students, alumni and Fitzgerald.
“The decision to originally suspend Coach Fitzgerald was mine and mine alone, as was the decision to part with him,” Schill said.
The dismissal announcement came after The Daily Northwestern reported on Saturday that a player, who requested anonymity from the newspaper, accused the players of punishing primarily freshmen in a sexual act in which about 10 teammates restrained a younger player. On Monday, The Daily Northwestern also reported that three former soccer players said there was a racist culture in the soccer program.
Fitzgerald, a Northwestern alumnus who played linebacker as a student, could not immediately be reached for comment, and his attorney did not immediately return a call or email seeking comment Monday night. But Fitzgerald said ESPN in a statement that he was “shocked” to learn that Schill had revoked their “mutual agreement” about the two-week suspension “without any prior notice and subsequently fired from my job”.
He added that his agent and attorney would “take whatever steps are necessary to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”
University research, conducted by Maggie Hickey of the ArentFox Schiff law firm, was sparked by an anonymous tip from a student athlete in November 2022 and lasted for six months. The investigation found no evidence that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing, although he was “well known to many on the show,” Schill said.
Some players “believed the hazing was joking and not harmful,” but others said it caused “significant damage with long-term consequences,” according to the law firm’s investigation.
Schill said that, to his knowledge, “no student suffered physical injury as a result of these behaviors.”
Still, he said, the head coach was responsible for the team’s culture, and the investigation found that hazing was “pervasive and clearly not a secret within the program, giving Coach Fitzgerald an opportunity to learn what was going on.” going”.
Fitzgerald had been a mainstay of the college football program, from his playing days as a linebacker when he helped the team reach the Rose Bowl, to his rise through the coaching ranks, eventually being named Big Ten Coach of the Year. of 2018. He won five bowl games and had a 110-101 record as the team’s head coach. Last season, Northwestern went 1-11.