Northwestern University on Monday fired Pat Fitzgerald, its longtime head football coach, after an investigation found his players engaged in widespread hazing, including forced nudity and sexualized acts.
His firing came three days after the university said Fitzgerald, who had been the Wildcats’ head coach since 2006, would be suspended for two weeks without pay after an investigation found the harassment allegations to be credible.
Michael Schill, Northwestern’s president, said in a statement that the decision to fire Fitzgerald, 48, came “after a difficult and complex evaluation” of his earlier discipline and after discussions with the board of trustees, students, alumni and Fitzgerald.
“The decision to originally suspend Coach Fitzgerald was mine and mine alone, as was the decision to part ways with him,” Schill said.
The announcement of the firing came later The Daily Northwestern reported on Saturday that a player, who requested anonymity from the newspaper, accused players of punishing mostly freshmen in a sexual act that involved about 10 teammates restraining a younger player. The Daily Northwestern also reported on Monday that three former football players said there is a racist culture in the football program.
Fitzgerald, a Northwestern alumnus who played linebacker as a student, could not be immediately reached for comment Monday night.
The research of the university, conducted by Maggie Hickey of the law firm ArentFox Schiff, was prompted by an anonymous student-athlete complaint in November 2022 and lasted six months. The investigation found no evidence that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing — although it was “well known to many in the program,” Schill said.
Some players “believed the hazing was a joke and not harmful,” but others said it caused “serious harm with long-term consequences,” according to the law firm’s investigation.
Schill said that, to his knowledge, “no student suffered bodily injury as a result of these behaviors.”
However, he said, the head coach was responsible for the team culture, and the investigation found that hazing was “widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing coach Fitzgerald the opportunity to learn what happened.”
Fitzgerald was a pillar of the university’s football program, from his playing days as a linebacker when he helped the team reach the Rose Bowl, to his rise through the coaching ranks, eventually being named the 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year. He won five bowl games and had a 110–101 record as head coach of the team. Last season, Northwestern went 1-11.