Pat Fitzgerald: 'The minute you think you have it all figured out, you die'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday February 22, 2017

No program in the country has had as much staff continuity as Northwestern, but Pat Fitzgerald says you never figure it out as a coach.

The Wildcats opened spring practice this week, and Fitzgerald has the same nine assistants for the seventh straight season. No other team is even close to that.

Fitzgerald has taken the program to seven bowl games in 11 seasons, including a second bowl win last year. There have been criticisms from fans at times, including after two 5-7 seasons a few years ago, but Fitzgerald stuck with things and points to the consistency, while noting tweaks always have to be made.

“I think Kirk Ferentz said it, every year you stay at a school, your fringe fans like you 10 percent less,” Fitzgerald said this week. “When it gets to 10 years, it kind of resets. So I’m at the 80 percent mark now, I guess, going into year 12. I think you have to be who you are, I think you have to be focused on whatever process that you believe in, I think you have to just have an unwavering belief and a drive to get better and improve.

The minute you think you’ve got it all figured out, you get complacent and you die. I mean Mike Hankwitz, how long has he been a D-coordinator, 45 years? It’s been 40-plus years and you come out and watch practice and he’s got more juice than some of my (graduate assistants). You just keep driving to get better.”

Entering 2017, Fitzgerald is still feeling the high of the bowl win, beating Pitt 31-24 in the Pinstripe Bowl. It was after that game that Fitzgerald called out Danny Kanell and some ESPN analysts for picking Pitt to win big.

It left such a good taste in Fitgerald’s mouth that he wanted to keep playing. Opening spring ball early helps attempt to continue that momentum.

“People expected to tune in and watch us get killed,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday. “I wish we had another month of the season. I think we grew up a lot as the season went along. The younger players really grew and matured.”

Northwestern’s spring game is scheduled for April 8.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 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