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Pat Fitzgerald Is Not On The Hot Seat (Yet)

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Is it possible that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald could generate some grumbles among the fan base after 2014? If so, it's because of shifting expectations he created. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images.
Is it possible that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald could generate some grumbles among the fan base after 2014? If so, it's because of shifting expectations he created. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images.

It’s the offseason, so indulge me in a hypothetical here.

What would it take, barring a scandal, for Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald to be on the so-called “hot seat?"

He’s the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten and is a legend in Evanston, Ill., thanks to his days as a player in the mid-'90s. He took over after previous head coach Randy Walker passed away due to a heart attack. In three short years he had Northwestern going toe-to-toe with Jeremy Maclin and Missouri in the Alamo Bowl. As Fitzgerald has pointed out, he is the winningest coach in school history. He led Northwestern to its first bowl win since 1949 in the 2013 Gator Bowl.

But last year, with high expectations, Northwestern had its worst season since 2006, his debut year. The ‘Cats went 5-7 after they started the year 4-0. Heartbreaking losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska didn’t help. Neither did an overtime loss to arch-rival Iowa.

At least they beat Illinois.

Offensive coordinator Mick McCall definitely is on the hot seat, right now, no matter what Fitz says. Another poor season on offense and I believe he’ll be shown the door.

But what about Fitzgerald himself? What would it actually take?

Jim Phillips already has cleaned house in women’s and men’s basketball, so he’s not afraid to fire people. But again, Fitzgerald is a made man around these parts. I think it would take three straight losing seasons for him to even be on the hot seat. No rational fan wants the football coach gone right now, but another losing season in 2014 and there might be some more grumblings. If they don’t get back on track by the conclusion of the 2015 season, then you’re talking about a coach who has been here 10 seasons with only one bowl win to show for it.

To be clear, Northwestern has talked about making Fitzgerald their coach for life and I don’t think the Wildcats will have another losing season next year or the year after.

But expectations are changing in Evanston. Fitzgerald knows this. It’s a different world than it was under the Mark Murphy administration when he came in 2006. Phillips wasn’t the one who hired Fitzgerald. I don’t think he’ll be the one to fire him either.

I think it's more likely Fitzgerald leads Northwestern to a Rose Bowl than comes close to sitting on the hot seat in the next few years. My gut tells me 2013 was an aberration and that the future looks more like 2012. But you never know. He has to get back on the winning track because in the world of big time college football no one’s job is ever truly safe.