Pat Fitzgerald on 10-year contract: 'I can tell the 2020 recruits...'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday April 26, 2017

In a day and age when coaching changes happen more frequently than ever, Northwestern made an eye-opening move with a 10-year contract through 2026 for Pat Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is one of the longest-tenured coaches in FBS, leading his alma mater since 2006 (and on staff since 2001). He’s received plenty of interest for other jobs, and he’s only 42 years old, but that’s not on his mind.

This is a championship commitment. We’re owners, not renters,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve made that commitment as a staff. I’m very thankful for our staff. The loyalty our staff have demonstrated to our players and university has been matched by the university’s commitment and loyalty back to our staff. It starts in our locker room.

“It’s been a neat couple hours. I got flooded with guys I coached texting me, how fired up they are, and it’s humbling. I texted back that it’s because of you, and that’s the truth.”

But the natural question with such a long contract: What is the buyout if Fitzgerald decides to leave or the school makes a change? It’s a private school, so that won’t be disclosed, but athletic director Jim Phillips hinted that it’s not too big.

“The first part was, do they want to be here? Both emphatically indicated they wanted to be here,” Phillips said. “It’s mutually binding. It’s cost-prohibitive, if either side wants to part prematurely, but that’s the right statement. We handled that extremely well for both Pat and (basketball coach Chris Collins).”

The odds of a college player keeping the same head coach or position coach through their four years is not very high. But it’s lasted at Northwestern, which has had the same nine assistants for seven straight years.

For me to look at 2019s and 2020s when they come on campus and say, ‘I’m going to be your coach, these guys are going to be your coaches, these guys are your going to be your leader in athletics’ (is huge),” Fitzgerald said. “We’re just getting started. This has been a great blessing and I’m thankful, but I’m highly motivated and fired up for our guys. This is a statement about our guys, and it’s a program extension.”

Fitzgerald took some criticism for keeping the entire staff following two straight 5-7 seasons, but he stuck to it and they’ve turned it around. Now that security appears even stronger.

“I’ve got a group of assistant coaches that are as loyal as any head coach has in college football,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve had opportunities to advance, they’ve had opportunities to do some things. As they’ve looked at it, the opportunity to stay here with the commitment from the university has made it hard for them to leave.”

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