The annual rumors concerning potential major NCAA football coaching vacancies have started, and Pat Fitzgerald's name has come up often in connection with Notre Dame.
This isn't terribly surprising considering that Fitzgerald is a young coach that has been successful at Northwestern in the Big 10. However, I have a hard time seeing him leave.
This isn't just the usual commentary about his loyalty, although Fitzgerald is a Northwestern alum that seems to bleed purple. It's not about his recently signed a seven year contract extension that could keep him in Evanston for the foreseeable future either.
It's not even about his recent quote in a Chicago Tribune article, where he said, "I think I've made my intentions and my feelings about Northwestern crystal clear," when commenting on the situation. He also said that his previous love for the Irish "died a long time ago."
Those are all factors, but the biggest reason that I believe he won't go anywhere is that I just don't feel that Fitzgerald is a good fit at a top tier football program.
While I'm a big fan of Fitzgerald and hope he stays at Northwestern for a long time, let me be realistic for a moment. His record at Northwestern is only 26-22 so far (14-17 in conference), with a season high of nine wins.
That simply wouldn't cut it at a major program.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, the guy some think he might replace, is on the hot seat with a 6-4 record. Ron Zook was fired after three years at Florida despite a 23-14 record. John Cooper was let go at Ohio State after an 8-4 season and a record of 111-43-4 as the Buckeye coach. Frank Solich was 9-4 in his last season at Nebraska and had a 59-11 record there, yet was fired before the Alamo Bowl in 2003. I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
Expectations for major football programs are ridiculously high. Bowl games are taken for granted and conference championships, maybe even national championships, are expected. While that's not necessarily fair, it's a fact of life at many programs.
At this point in his career, Fitzgerald simply doesn't seem like a good fit for a major program. He has led some competitive Northwestern teams, but they have yet to have a truly great year under Fitzgerald. If I were the athletic director at a major program, my goal would not be to replace a winning coach that hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations with a coach that has a similar record.
Fitzgerald is in a very good place at Northwestern. His team is going to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1996 and the program seems to be on the rise. He also has job security because of the extension he signed in June as well as very reasonable expectations at NU. At Northwestern, making a bowl game is a solid year and a 10-win season might earn him a parade.
All of that would be gone at a major program. While his salary would increase substantially, he could be on the way out the door if he didn't go to a BCS bowl relatively soon. Even back to back BCS bowls to open his Notre Dame career has only bought Weis five years at Notre Dame.
A move to a bigger program for Fitzgerald simply doesn't make a lot of sense for either party. Because of that, he'll probably be patrolling the sidelines at Ryan Field for several more years, if not longer. Northwestern fans are happy to have him and will appreciate him far more than a larger program like Notre Dame ever will.