As with all things that are ultimately a little mean spirited, this should begin with a disclaimer.
I like Pat Fitzgerald. A lot. I once got to talk to him for like an hour off the record in his office when I was in college, and that was one of the coolest things I did while I was in school. A related note: I didn’t do that many cool things in college.
Pat Fitzgerald is the best coach Northwestern has ever had, the best coach it will ever have, and the only person on earth who could make Northwestern Football anything other than “sad sack of embarrassment.”
Speaking of “sad sacks of embarrassment,” let’s talk about Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern Football.
The offense dialed up this play, on purpose, in a football game that was not an exhibition.
Razzle dazzle wooooo pic.twitter.com/rsOWpPsqTS— Ramzy Nasrallah (@ramzy) November 3, 2019
Pat Fitzgerald is losing his mind.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald puts NCAA football's attendance problem and really society's eventual downfall in perspective:— Rick Tarsitano (@RickTarsitano) July 20, 2019
I know you might be watching this on one, but couldn't agree more with @PatFitzgerald23 pic.twitter.com/lQfiyVmpmM
He is losing his grip on reality.
"RPO is the purest form of communism."— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 11, 2018
You can't watch football without hearing "RPO" these days, and @coachfitz51 has some strong thoughts on the Run-Pass Option: pic.twitter.com/isVYvkPCvr
He is not acting like a sane human being.
Fitz: "There are three magic buttons for things to go right. All three have to be hit at the same time. Those three are Control, Alt, and Delete. You know what that does? It restarts your computer."— Inside NU (@insidenu) October 21, 2019
Says he told the team this in a meeting this morning.
He picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty for no real discernible reason in a game where his team was losing 24-3 before the half. Things are not going well.
David Roth touched on this a while back when he rightly diagnosed that Pat Fitzgerald is doing a bit when he does these D- riffs in front of BTN cameras. Pat Fitzgerald owns at least one phone, has children who undoubtedly are familiar with phones and the internet, and probably understands that RPOs are really more anarchocapitalistic than communist.
What isn’t clear is who the audience for his increasingly deranged bits is. Is it a recruiting pitch? Unless 17 year olds love being negged and mocked roundly all the time, that doesn’t really scan, does it. If it’s Northwestern fans, my man is bombing his comedy act. If it’s Old Football Guys, and by process of elimination it has to be, what is the point?
Pat Fitzgerald is ultimately always angling towards receiving guttural grunts and affirming nods of heavy set ex-coaches in wood-panelled Waukesha supper clubs who remember the fullback exploits of Munch Pilkington and the 1938 Canton Coalkickers who went undefeated with 3 ties. Pat Fitzgerald has even curated the thick neck, bizarrely rectangular haircut aesthetic of a 1947 H-Back. Take away the Tactical Sunglasses™ and UnderArmour TroopGear windbreakers, and he looks like he could play SAM linebacker behind Gerry Bertier.
Pat Fitzgerald, Evanston’s Luddite Linebacker, is reaching his final form.
So what’s driven him to this stage? What’s pushed him from the realm of normal Football Guy Weird to Performative Terminal Stage Football Brain?
An easy candidate is his offense. Northwestern is armed with a five-star quarterback whose arm is designed by Heckler and Koch to hurl projectiles at subsonic speeds. He, Hunter Johnson, has been relegated to backup duty by a Rube Goldbergian combination of serious family tragedy, horribly mistimed injuries, and Aidan Smith. Inside NU saved us the trouble of charting Aidan Smith’s throws this year and I’ve contracted tetanus from looking at it, so you now have to too.
Mick McCall’s offense -- which could be termed uninspiring even in its best moments -- has somehow become the most noxious, radioactive version of itself. It’s the worst offense in the country.
But it’s the offense Pat Fitzgerald’s Advanced Stage Coach Brain wants. The communist RPO’s have been replaced by a simpler playbook that has only one page in it. Sure, yes, half of the page says “MESH” in crayon, and the “E” is backwards. Northwestern is a ground and pound, ball control offense. It’s teaching the haters and naysayers that the forward pass is not only untrustworthy, it’s less desirable than the simple “run.” It’s a paleolithic offense, which makes it Pat Fitzgerald’s perfect offense.
It could be the general disarray of Pat Fitzgerald’s garden that’s driven him to madness. The last time Northwestern came to the state of Indiana, they were playing in a Big Ten Title game, and they were making it interesting in the second half. They leave the state this time after having their teeth placed on the curb outside of Kilroy’s and stomped on the back of the head by the only Big Ten football program that can compete with Northwestern’s own ineptitude.
But Northwestern’s been in these spots before, and they didn’t bring with it the Fitz tantrums. These are new, and they are born of a new source.
Pat Fitzgerald’s newfound and profound brainworms have nothing to do with the offense’s inability to move a football, or the team’s inability to win a football game, or his offensive coordinator’s inability to do something as simple as to wipe his own ass.
Everything from Pat Fitzgerald’s escalating screeds to the media to Mick McCall’s escalating War On Yards is a test of how much Pat Fitzgerald can get away with. This is all vindictive. This is all playing to a grander point which is that Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t give a shit, and doesn’t have to give a shit, anymore. The “I don’t care” bit? It’s the only thing he says and means genuinely.
Nowhere else in America can this happen. Other schools have an expectation of competency for their football programs. Northwestern’s fanbase is still mostly people named Willoghby Boofington who remember Northwestern losing eighty-seven straight games in the 1980’s. Other schools may have athletic directors who are at the controls of their school. Pat Fitzgerald is infinitely more powerful than his AD. He is the Northwestern athletic department. Other schools may have a booster base big enough and holding enough of the pursestrings to affect change for better or for worse. Northwestern’s booster base consists of The Guy Who Brought In The Saudi Arabia Account To McKinsey, The Heirs Of The Werthers Original Fortune, and Patrick Ryan. None of them have watched a football game.
This is all posturing. This is Pat Fitzgerald making it very clear to the world that he is hemmed in by nothing, he is governed by nothing, and that everything the eye sees from the top of the Ryan Field Western Tower is his.
Nothing in football is left to be conquered for Pat Fitzgerald, not realistically anyway. A Big Ten West title will be the high water mark for Northwestern. The only thing left to triumph over is reason. And if there’s anything that Northwestern’s 1-7 start and steadfast support of Mick McCall has shown, it’s that reason’s domain ends at the Evanston border.
Indiana 34 Northwestern 3, who gives a shit.