Pat Fitzgerald: If you call bowl 'meaningless,' you never played or coached

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Friday December 23, 2016


Pat Fitzgerald has taken Northwestern to its seventh bowl game in nine years, and he doesn’t want to hear anything about bowl games being “meaningless.”

The explosion of bowl games coupled with a few notable players sitting out has led to some saying the games have no meaning. But especially in a season where Northwestern started 1-3 and had to win their last game to get to 6-6, it means something to Fitzgerald.

No disrespect to anybody that would call any bowl game ‘meaningless,’ but if you’re making that kind of statement, you never played in one and you never coached in one,” Fitzgerald said on SiriusXM College Sports Nation. “The opportunity to play in the postseason in Power 5 football is earned. You’ve got to go through the gauntlet of your conference schedule, you’ve got to find a way to make your team successful, and that is not easy.”

Some media and fans have compared so many bowl games to a “participation trophy,” but it’s really another opportunity to compete, including practices and strength training. It’s also a free trip for many players who may not be able to make such a trip otherwise. From a fan perspective, you get to watch more football, so what's the issue?

There is no such thing as a meaningless game. You’re only guaranteed X amount of games in college. Injury and everything are a major part of that,” Fitzgerald said. “For us to be in the postseason, to be in Yankee Stadium and play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against an outstanding opponent, this is a great opportunity for our program, and I know our guys are excited about it.”

The Wildcats started this season 1-3 with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. It looked like NU could miss a bowl for the third time in four years, as the pressure increased on Fitzgerald, but he didn’t make big changes, and it eventually turned around to make a second straight bowl after last year's 10-3 season.

“One of those situations when you come out of training camp a little beat up, played two very good teams and we played poorly,” he said. “We had to soul-search, had to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out what kind of football team we wanted to be. We had one of those years where we’re probably six, seven plays away from a handful more wins, and last year we were probably the same from a handful of losses. You just keep grinding, you stay the course, re-establish your values, re-establish what makes you successful.

“It takes great leadership, and I’m very proud of our seniors and staff. Maybe a different head coach, a different staff, you push the panic button. I just don’t believe in doing that. You get back to what you are and what you believe in. It didn’t get us to a Big Ten West championship, but we went into November with an opportunity to compete for it.”

Northwestern and Pitt play in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 28.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.