Similarities Between Fitzgerald, Ferentz Run Deep

WNUR’s Michael Stern (michaeljstern23) examines the similarities between Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and argues that Fitzgerald deserves Ferentz-type money.

Pat Fitzgerald NorthwesternAnother off-season, another rumor that a high-priced program is courting your head coach.

Another off-season, another high-priced job turned down by your head coach.

Is this Evanston? No, it’s Iowa.

Northwestern fans can only hope Pat Fitzgerald follows in the footsteps of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. The good news: so far, he has.

Similarities between Ferentz and Fitzgerald start before their head coaching careers begin.  Fitzgerald’s career as a Northwestern linebacker is well-documented, and Ferentz also played linebacker in college (at Connecticut from 1974-1976). Ferentz’ first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Connecticut immediately after his playing career ended. Fitzgerald’s first coaching job was an assistant at Maryland under his college defensive coordinator.

From there, the similarities are obvious: both men have done a great job turning their teams into consistent winners, and both men have been offered and turned down several potentially more prestigious and usually more lucrative deals.

Most of Ferentz’s job offers have come from NFL teams. Ferentz was a candidate to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006 (the team eventually hired Mike Tomlin), the Cleveland Browns in 2008, and the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, 2011, and 2012.  The Chiefs’ interest in Ferentz was due to the coach’s close relationship with former Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli.

Fitzgerald has mostly been considered for top college football jobs so far. He was rumored to be involved in Notre Dame’s last coaching search (which landed Brian Kelly). He was a candidate in the last coaching searches at Michigan and Tennessee, and is expected to be a candidate at USC after the season and at Texas if/when the job opens up.

In addition to the interest he draws from college teams, Fitzgerald has already drawn attention and is likely to draw offers soon from NFL teams as well, according to NFL Network insider Albert Breer. Breer tweeted shortly after the Northwestern-Ohio State game: “Fitzgerald has built a heck of a program. Easy to see why NFL teams have their eyes of him.”

Should Fitzgerald follow in the footsteps of Ferentz and turn down NFL offers, the future looks bright for Northwestern. As Ferentz coaches his 15th season at Iowa, he has led the Hawkeyes to 10 bowl appearances, 9 winning seasons, 2 Orange Bowl berths, and 1 Orange Bowl victory. Northwestern fans would certainly take 2 BCS bowl berths in 15 years (soon to be big-time but not-BCS bowl berths, but that’s another story for another time).

In order to keep Fitzgerald, Northwestern will have to pay. Lots of money. Ferentz is the highest-paid employee in the state of Iowa and the sixth-highest-paid college football coach in America, with a yearly salary of $3.9 million. Fitzgerald is signed to a long extension, but he remains the 72nd highest-paid college football coach in the country  (and lowest-played coach in the Big Ten) at $1.8 million per year. For Fitzgerald to stay, that will have to change.

Or perhaps not. Fitzgerald has an insane level of allegiance to Northwestern which has led him to already withdraw his name from consideration for three of the top 20 paying college football head coaching jobs in the country. Perhaps he won’t demand Ferentz-type money, but Pat Fitzgerald is a Ferentz-type coach. And deserves a Ferentz-type raise.

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