Why Iowa Kept Ferentz And Northwestern Decided To Fire Fitzgerald
Iowa fans had to grimace a bit at the news coming out of Northwestern University over the weekend. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was on the hot seat, suspended for his role in a hazing scandal at the Big Ten school. Fitzgerald would end up being fired. Iowa fans can remember Kirk Ferentz facing scrutiny several years ago for negative headlines involving the Iowa football program. So why did Fitzgerald pay with his job, and Feretnz survive?
Fitzgerald spent 17 years as the head coach of the Wildcats. The Des Moines Register reports that he enjoyed a 9-8 record against Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. The two programs were often compared for the way they developed players. With Fitzgerald gone, Ferentz's lead as the dean of Big Ten coaches only grows larger.
Just three summers ago, there were cries in Iowa City for Ferentz to be let go after allegations of racial disparities within the football program came to light from dozens of former Black players. While the Northwestern case involved reports of hazing, the Register reports that reports of racial bias at Northwestern have also emerged. Reports say that Fitzgerald asked Black players to cut off dreadlocks so they would be more in line with the 'Wildcat Way.' The Register points out that this sounds very similar to the 'Iowa Way' uncovered by investigators, that encouraged players to ditch earrings, durags, and certain hairstyles. So how did Ferentz keep his job?
The Register points out some key differences between the two cases. First, many of the racial bias accusations at Iowa involved strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who eventually left the program following a $1.1 million buyout. While many Iowa players were critical of the program, most still had positive comments about Kirk Ferentz and his leadership. The Northwestern situation fell directly at the feet of Fitzgerald and his leadership at the school.
Another glaring difference, fair or unfair, is wins and losses. The Register reports that Fitzgerald's Wildcats had slumped to a 4-20 record the past two seasons, including 2-16 in Big Ten play. In the summer of 2020 when Ferentz came under fire, the Hawkeyes were coming off a 10-3 season and a beatdown of USC in the Holiday Bowl. What if Northwestern had WON 20 games the past two seasons? Perhaps Fitzgerald would have been given the same change Ferentz was to get his program back under control.
Since the Iowa program came under fire, the team has a 24-11 record, and the Register reports that by all accounts, the culture within the football program has become more inclusive. A new quarterback is in town looking to take the reins of an improved offense. The defense and special teams look great. Hopes are high again in Hawkeye country. It could be a while before they are again in Evanston.