Ex-football coach Pat Fitzgerald sues Northwestern


Ex-Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who was fired this year amid a hazing scandal, has sued the university and school president Michael Schill, alleging breach of contract and “callous and outrageous misconduct in destroying his career.”

Fitzgerald’s attorney Dan Webb also said he is extremely skeptical there was any widespread hazing on the Wildcat football squad, and said the whistleblower who first raised the allegations had a “grudge” and wanted to make false claims.

“If you put young men in a locker room, do they sometimes engage in behavior that someone could say on a given day they were being difficult with each other? Players sometimes do that in every locker room in America,” Webb said at a news conference Thursday to announce the lawsuit. “… We’ll find out, was there any real hazing at Northwestern? I doubt it.”

Northwestern this summer initially told Webb there would be no further punishment if he would accept a short suspension, then a few days later terminated him entirely after the student newspaper the Daily Northwestern publicized details of the allegations. That amounts to a breach of contract, Webb said.

“The fact they’ve gone out and destroyed his reputation as one of the best football coaches in America, based on no legitimate reason or evidence, it’s disgraceful,” Fitzgerald’s attorney Dan Webb said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s despicable conduct on behalf of Northwestern.”

Northwestern has faced an escalating series of lawsuits related to the hazing scandal, broadly accusing the school of a culture that normalized instances of forced nudity, sexual abuse and racist remarks.

The scandal first surfaced in early July, when the university released a summary of an outside investigation into allegations on the football team. At the time, Schill suspended head coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks. Three days later, after a bombshell story in The Daily Northwestern detailed a former player’s account of hazing, Schill removed Fitzgerald as head coach.

Not long afterward, Webb told the Tribune he was exploring breach-of-contract claims on Fitzgerald’s behalf.

Schill released a statement in July noting that the outside investigator found no “credible evidence” that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing, but it was “well-known by many in the program.”

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“The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team,” Schill said. “The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening.”

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald reacts after Michigan State scored a touchdown in the first half of a game at Ryan Field in Evanston on Sept. 3, 2021.

Schill’s statement said he reached the decision to fire Fitzgerald “after a difficult and complex evaluation” of his initial punishment for the coach’s “failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program.”

The first allegations to surface involved the football team; accusations have included “ambushes” and forced dry-humping at training camp, and forced naked performances in the locker room. One lawsuit alleged Black freshmen players were forced to compete in watermelon-eating contests. One former player, who was the only Latino offensive lineman, has said upperclassmen shaved “Cinco de Mayo” onto the back of his head as the entire football team watched.

In addition, baseball coach Jim Foster was dismissed amid accusations of bullying and abusive behavior. Another lawsuit was filed accusing head women’s volleyball coach Shane Davis of singling out a player for punishment.

Northwestern leaders announced in August that former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch would lead a review of the athletic department’s practices.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.



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