Pat Fitzgerald Coaching Profile: Prior experience and interest rumors for 2021

Could Pat Fitzgerald be the next head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears? The Bears have yet to officially part ways with current head coach Matt Nagy, but the prevailing thought is that it’s only a matter of time. If Nagy is fired, the Bears might not have to look beyond the state of Illinois to find his replacement.

Who is Pat Fitzgerald?

The 14th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats have been one of the darlings of the 2020 college football season. They’re headed to their second Big Ten Championship Game in the last three years. To some, the team may feel like an overnight success. However, it’s been anything but a quick journey to stardom for Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats.

Fitzgerald’s odyssey at Northwestern

Fitzgerald was named the Wildcats head coach in 2006, after spending five seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater. A former standout linebacker for the Northwestern program, Fitzgerald became the youngest head coach in the nation at just 31 years of age when promoted. The Wildcats would not have a winning season under Fitzgerald until his third year with the program when the team went 9-4 and made an appearance in the Alamo Bowl.

That 2008 team would be a sign of things to come, as Fitzgerald would lead the Wildcats to five consecutive bowl games from 2008 to 2012, with the team’s first bowl win under Fitzgerald coming in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

After two straight losing seasons, Fitzgerald would right the ship with Northwestern and send the team to four straight bowl games from 2015 to 2018, winning three of them. Now, Fitzgerald once again has the Wildcats bowl-eligible and has his eyes on a much bigger prize. Win or lose, could the success of the 2020 Northwestern team propel Pat Fitzgerald to the NFL?

Would Fitzgerald fit with the Bears?

The Chicago Bears’ potential courting of Fitzgerald would make sense for several reasons. First and foremost, Pat Fitzgerald is a Chicago guy through-and-through. Fitzgerald was born in the Chicago suburb of Orland Park, Illinois. He spent his college years at Northwestern and has spent nearly his entire coaching career with the Wildcats. Chicago is home for Fitzgerald, and he would be more than comfortable under the bright lights of Soldier Field.

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When you think of the Chicago Bears, you likely think of their rich history of linebacker play. From this perspective, Fitzgerald is once again a fit.

Though he never made a name for himself in the NFL, he was quite the linebacker at the collegiate level. During his playing days with Northwestern, Fitzgerald became the first player to win both the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards twice. Fitzgerald also took home the Jack Lambert Trophy and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his playing efforts in 2009.

Are the Bears interested, and would Fitzgerald leave Northwestern?

The Bears will be on the lookout for a “players’ coach” if they move on from Nagy. Pat Fitzgerald fits that description to a tee. But what should draw the Bears’ attention is Fitzgerald’s ability to do more with less.

Northwestern has never been able to compete with schools like Ohio State and Michigan on the recruiting trail. They’re not a powerhouse program bringing in five-star recruits left and right. Fitzgerald has had to take what he’s been given and optimize each player. With the Wildcats going to the conference championship game two out of the last three years, he’s succeeded on that front.

The bigger question at hand

However, the biggest question isn’t whether or not the Bears would be interested in Fitzgerald. Rather, it’s if Fitzgerald would leave Northwestern for the NFL.

After Mike McCarthy was fired in Green Bay, the Packers wanted to bring Fitzgerald in for an interview. Fitzgerald declined, opting to stay in the college ranks and continue to build the Northwestern program. He has been on record not wanting to leave the program, stating Northwestern is “his home.”

An opening in Chicago and his current team’s success may change that. As Tony Pauline and Andy Herman noted on the Draft Insiders podcast, Fitzgerald may have reached his ceiling at Northwestern. If he thinks he has, an opening in his own backyard might be enough to sway Pat Fitzgerald to make the leap to the NFL. Additionally, as Pauline discussed on the December 16 Draft Insiders podcast, Northwestern Athletic Director, Jim Phillips has recently been made ACC Commissioner. The departure of Phillips could potentially be a catalyst for Fitzgerald to be willing to leave Northwestern.