Illinois’ in-state rival Northwestern is now doing damage control inside its program and looking for a new head coach.
After days of turmoil and allegations of hazing and harassment inside the team, Northwestern reportedly fired head coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday night.
A native of Moline, the 48-year-old had coached the program at his alma mater since 2006. He had been on staff since 2001, when he was defensive backs coach.
There are plenty of places you can read about all of the allegations, but some of the most thorough coverage the past four days has come from Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. On Saturday, they spoke with an anonymous former player, who opened up about the allegations of “running” and Fitzgerald’s alleged role in the matter.
Of course, these allegations, if true, are horrifying, and there are much bigger changes that need to happen inside NU’s athletic department.
Not minimizing those allegations at all, there is a football side of this story — and it certainly impacts the Illini.
Earlier this summer, Northwestern was announced as one of Illinois’ protected rivalries (along with Purdue). Those are teams the Illini will play each year when the league goes away with division play in 2024 (upon the arrival of USC and UCLA).
Fitzgerald’s last game with Northwestern was a 41-3 loss in Evanston last November.
The two teams will meet this season on Saturday, Nov. 25 at Memorial Stadium.
There are also the recruiting impacts, with Illinois often competing with the Wildcats for in-state prospects.
Again, first and foremost here are the student-athletes impacted by these allegations, but the enormity of this moment for a program like Northwestern cannot be understated.