Northwestern fires football coach Pat Fitzgerald after hazing allegations

Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday afternoon after launching an independent investigation into claims of widespread hazIng within the program. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
1 of 5 | Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday afternoon after launching an independent investigation into claims of widespread hazIng within the program. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

July 11 (UPI) -- Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald after a group of 11 current and former players made claims of hazing that occurred within the program, university president Michael Schill announced.

Schill announced the decision Monday in a letter sent to the Northwestern community. On Saturday, Northwestern announced it completed an investigation into the allegations and suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks.


Schill said specific findings will remain confidential, but confirmed reports that the hazing included "forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature." Schill said no students sustained known physical injuries from the incidents.

Fitzgerald has said he had no knowledge of hazing that occurred during his tenure. The independent investigation into the matter also "failed to find any credible evidence" that Fitzgerald knew about the incidents, Schill said.

"The decision comes after a difficult and complex evaluation of my original discipline decision imposed last week on coach Fitzgerald for his failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program," Schill said.


Fitzgerald told ESPN on Monday night that he hired a lawyer to protect his "rights in accordance with the law." He reiterated that he had "no knowledge whatsoever of any form of hazing" during his tenure as Wildcats coach.

Schill said he spent three days spending time talking with university officials, including the board of trustees, students, alumni and Fitzgerald before making the decision to dismiss the coach.

"While I am appreciative of the feedback and considered it in my decision-making, ultimately, the decision to originally suspend coach Fitzgerald was mine and mine alone, as is the decision to part ways with him," Schill said.

Northwestern officials received a complaint on Nov. 30 about alleged hazing within the program. The complaint -- received through email -- sparked the six-month investigation, led by Maggie Hickey, a former executive assistant U.S. attorney and inspector general of Illinois.

The school, which disclosed the investigation in January, said the allegations involved football players "pressuring team members into participating in hazing activities." The school said the claims of the hazing, which allegedly occurred in the locker room and at training camp, were "largely supported" by "evidence gathered during the investigation."

The investigative team interviewed more than 50 people affiliated or formerly affiliated with the football program. A summary of the investigation said that the probe included scouring "hundreds of thousands of emails" and player survey data.


"While some student-athletes believed the hazing was in jest and not harmful, others viewed it as causing significant harm with long-term consequences," Schill said as part of a section in a news release, which relayed "facts" from the investigation.

"The hazing was well-known by many in the program, though the investigator failed to find any credible evidence that coach Fitzgerald himself knew about it," Schill said.

Fitzgerald, 48, played as a star linebacker at Northwestern from 1993 to 1996. He went on to serve as a graduate assistant in 1998 at Maryland and in 1999 at Colorado. He served as a linebackers and special teams coach in 2000 at Idaho.

Fitzgerald joined the Northwestern staff in 2001 as a defensive backs coach. He went on to work as a linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats. Northwestern promoted Fitzgerald to head coach in 2006.

The 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year led the Wildcats to a 110-101 record over 17 seasons. In 2021, the Wildcats signed the former coach to a contract extension through the 2030 season.

The Wildcats, who went 7-2 in 2020, went 3-9 in 2021 and 1-11 in 2022.

"The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team," Schill said. "The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening.


"Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others."

Northwestern said it expects to name a new coach in the "days ahead."

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