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Now that the Chicago Bears seem to be hunting for new head coach - and aren't they always? - their eyes have fallen on Northwestern's Pat "Mr. Chicago" Fitzgerald.
I know a guy who knows a guy.
Matt Nagy seems to be on the endangered species list for the same flaws that doomed his immediate predecessors.
Fitz wouldn't even have to move. He already owns a $2.5 million mansion in Northfield.
Though Northwestern is a private university and need not reveal what its coaches make, many professional sleuths have figured out Fitz makes $5 million a year, which makes him one of the Top Ten paid college coaches in the country. He would be very expensive.
Fitzgerald's name - as it will when the Notre Dame job comes open - inevitably pops up in these circumstances because he has done something more profound than be a good college coach. He has mastered the art of controlling the meme. He has, to coin a phrase, rigged the election.
Fitzgerald has achieved something of a clever illusion.
Little engine that could takes whatever really smart kids it can find and puts together a ragtag (but well-dressed) football team that is often mediocre but occasionally not inept. That's the illusion that has transformed Fitzgerald from a nominally competent coach into something of a genius.
Mr. Smoke meet Mr. Mirrors.
He has managed to lower the bar for judging genius and made himself fabulously wealthy in the process. He has mastered the gee-whiz marketing narrative.
It's what the Chicago Cubs used to be. Sure, they're bad but they are "our bad" and we love them and revere their inevitable failures. It does not hurt that hundreds of media influencers are grads of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Nice to have friends in public places.
What Fitzgerald has created is either the American Dream or the American Hallucination, and the Bears, if they are serious in their rumored pursuit of Fitzgerald, are about to find out which. There also are rumors the disaster-ridden New York Jets are lusting after him.
The Fitzgerald genius is open to several interpretations. In 15 years, his Wildcat teams are 104-80, a .565 winning percentage. At some schools that does not earn permanent enshrinement but a pink slip. Tom Herman stands at the edge of being fired at Texas with a .707 career winning percentage.
Charlie Weis had the same winning percentage (at 35-27) in five seasons at Notre Dame before he was condemned to the purgatory of Kansas.
Fitzgerald's record rounds out to a typical 7-5 season. Every third year the Wildcats are likely to win 9 or 10 games. Otherwise there are more 5-7 seasons that even ripe plucking of early-season bumpkins from the Mid-American Conference and mid-majors can't inflate.
They are 5-1 now in Covid Bowl season . . . but went 3-9 last year, and that includes wins over nondescript Nevada-Las Vegas and Massachusetts, plus a typically abysmal Illinois team. A year earlier they were 9-5 but lost to Duke and Akron (yikes). Even good seasons are inflated with wins over such bunny rabbits as Bowling Green, South Dakota and Maine.
When the Wildcats have bad years, local audiences and media yawn and accept the flubs as Northwestern being Northwestern. They are likable schlubs, which is a carefully tended marketing falsehood. They are very rich schlubs who spent $270 million of their own money on new sports facilities the past three years. Lovable losers don't normally have that sort of pocket change.
Fitzgerald has managed many seasons which would not be survivable elsewhere. At schools where quality was an expectation, those single seasons could get a coach fired, not exempted from negative judgement.
Besides, last year's 3-9, Fitzgerald's teams went Last year 5-7 in 2014, 5-7 in 2013, 6-7 in 2011, and 4-8 in 2008.
They tend to be good and bad in alternate years, and just successful enough for Fitz to keep his "boy genius" hat.
It's an adept manipulation of expectations that apply to Northwestern but hardly anyone else. Even some worthy seasons needed a Northwestern asterisk, which is an excuse note from mom that exempts you from gym class.
In 2010 and 2011, Fitz's boys went to two minor bowls (that's good) after losing 10 of 16 Big Ten games (that's bad).
In seven of Fitzgerald's 15 years, the Wildcats had losing records in the BIg 10. That might work just fine at Valpo or Illinois State or even the University of Illinois, but it's not much of a recommendation for the Bears.
The Bears only seem to be as patient as Northwestern. The clock on being fired begins ticking backward before the ink dries on Bears' contracts.
Nagy is 29th in EdjSports.com's head coach rankings, so his "genius lad" hat has been ripped off his head.
Chicago's decision to give Nagy a five-year contract in 2018 is something the organization never did before, though the length of NFL coaching contracts is gradually elongating, and is often disconnected from the coach's peril. Former head coach John Fox signed a four-year deal in 2015; Marc Trestman a four-year deal in 2013; and Lovie Smith a four-year deal back in 2004. All were ditched after the Bears played many seasons that now look like what occurs at Northwestern.
To survive in the pros, Fitzgerald might have the skill, but he will not be revered as he is in Evanston. Medill allies won't protect the Bears or their coach.
Plus, life happens fast in the NFL. And figurative professional death does, too.
Gregg Williams was a well-regarded defensive coordinator who just lost his Jets job. He made a terrible, boneheaded tactical decision that cost the Jets a last-minute loss. He called a maximum blitz when a routine prevention defense would have won the game.
He went from being employed to jobless in 14 seconds.
Fitzgerald has never faced that sort of risk.
David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Afternoon In America. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Jan 11, 2021