Pat Fitzgerald

Pat Fitzgerald Signs Northwestern Extension

On the NFL radar for several years, Pat Fitzgerald may stick with the college game for a while. Northwestern and its head coach agreed to a 10-year extension Wednesday, the university announced.

Fitzgerald popped up as a Packers candidate two years ago but soon indicated he would not consider NFL jobs. However, the longtime Wildcats HC resurfaced as a prospective candidate during this cycle. Fitzgerald has received overtures from as many as nine teams in recent years.

The Texans, Falcons and Lions were mentioned as Fitzgerald suitors this offseason, and although the Bears are sticking with Matt Nagy, they were believed to be interested in speaking with the Big Ten coach had they moved to fire their three-year HC. This extension, which runs through 2030, should quiet such noise and shift focus to some of the other college-to-pro candidates. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley have joined Fitzgerald in being consistently connected to a jump.

Fitzgerald, 46, is a Northwestern alum and the winningest coach in program history. He has guided the Wildcats to more 10-win seasons in his 15-year tenure than the school had its previous 100-plus years of existence.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2021 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

Exiting the regular season, six teams are searching for new head coaches. That number is up from last season but not quite as high as 2019, though there may well be more vacancies that emerge during the playoffs.

Listed below are the head coaching candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make head coaching changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 1-27-21 (7:05pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pat Fitzgerald To Pass On NFL Interviews?

Multiple NFL teams have inquired about Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. But, as of this writing, he has not agreed to interview with any of them (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter).

The Falcons, Lions, and Texans have all been connected to Fitzgerald, though it’s hard to see him landing in Houston. Reportedly, the Texans aren’t interested in pulling a coach from the college ranks. Instead, they’re chatting with experienced NFL coaches like Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady and Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was also on that list, but he declined.

Fitzgerald has coached the Wildcats to three 10-win seasons since taking over in 2006. That was no small feat, considering the program’s underwhelming track record. Fitzgerald, 46, has come up in NFL conversations before, but he didn’t generate much buzz last year. If Fitzgerald turns pro, he’ll be the third college coach to do so in the past three years, following Kliff Kingsbury and Matt Rhule.

It’s worth noting that Northwestern is Fitzgerald’s alma mater and he’s referred to his current position as his “dream job.” Some coaches play hard to get, but Fitzgerald’s trepidation might be sincere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons, Lions, Texans Interested In Pat Fitzgerald?

Buzz surrounding Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald may be more relevant this year. Two years after he declined NFL interest, the Big Ten HC is interested in making a jump, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

He appears to have a few suitors. The Falcons and Lions are interested in Fitzgerald, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. And despite a previous report indicating the Texans are not looking to hire a college coach, La Canfora adds that Houston is interested as well.

The Falcons and Lions are moving forward with their respective searches. Both teams are interviewing Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy and Titans OC Arthur Smith. Each team interviewed its interim coach — Raheem Morris and Darrell Bevell, respectively — and Michigan native Robert Saleh has been a frontrunner for this post for a bit now. But Fitzgerald has displayed impressive credentials at Northwestern.

The Wildcats have won 10 games three times since Fitzgerald, a Northwestern player on one of those teams (1995), took over in 2006. In the program’s previous 100-plus years, it only reached the 10-win plateau twice. Northwestern went 7-2 this year. Fitzgerald, 46, is not expected to take every interview possible, JLC adds, but he is squarely back on the NFL radar after not being connected to any pro jobs last year. He would be the third college coach to jump in the past three years, following Kliff Kingsbury and Matt Rhule. Northwestern OC Mike Bajakian, the Buccaneers’ QBs coach from 2015-18, has also received interest as an NFL assistant, La Canfora notes.

It now appears Nick Caserio will be offering key input into Houston’s HC hire, so it would be interesting if the 20-year NFL exec and Division III alum would go with a longtime college coach.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald Receiving HC Interest

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has attracted the attention of NFL teams for a long time, and his stock continues to soar. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Fitzgerald can expect formal requests for interviews after the Wildcats’ bowl game, and two NFL teams already inquired about his availability in the wake of Northwestern’s Big Ten Championship Game loss yesterday.

A source tells Schefter that nine NFL teams have expressed interest in Fitzgerald over the past five years, though the 46-year-old has thus far resisted the call from the professional ranks. In January 2019, he said he was not interested in NFL jobs, and there have been no concrete reports to suggest that he has changed his mind. Indeed, he has coached Northwestern (his alma mater) for 15 seasons, and he has repeatedly referred to the position as his “dream job.”

In November, we heard that the pandemic and the toll it has taken on collegiate athletic departments could make some high-profile college coaches more receptive to a move to the NFL, but it’s unclear if Fitzgerald feels that way. As Schefter observes, the ACC recently hired former Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips as its next commissioner, and Fitzgerald and Phillips enjoyed a strong relationship over their 12 years together. Theoretically, Phillips’ departure could make Fitzgerald more amenable to leaving Evanston if the right NFL opportunity presents itself.

Fitzgerald has been connected to the Panthers and Packers in the past, and he is seen as the Bears’ top choice for HC if Chicago fires Matt Nagy. Fitzgerald does live close to the Bears’ training facility, and team ownership has been eyeing him for awhile. Previous rumors have indicated that the Bears’ HC gig is the one NFL post he would seriously consider.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Jets, Lewis, Bears, Daboll

The Adam GaseGregg Williams arranged marriage dissolved at the 11th hour, after the defensive coordinator’s bizarre final-seconds play call ended up keeping the Jets winless. To some degree, Gase had soured on the polarizing DC earlier this season. The second-year Gang Green head coach “fumed” after Williams’ indirect shot at the Jets’ offense, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes, adding that the soon-to-be-fired HC was upset Williams voiced frustration in that manner. In a split setup in which Gase ran the offense and Williams oversaw the defense, Cimini adds Gase would learn of Williams’ defensive lineup changes on Fridays before games on certain occasions. This regime’s issues may cause the Jets to re-evaluate how they pair coaches next year.

Here is the latest from the coaching circuit:

  • Josh Allen‘s rise could well push Bills OC Brian Daboll to a coaching job in 2021. The expectation around the league is that the third-year Bills coordinator will land an HC gig, Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com note. Several jobs will be available, and the ESPN duo adds that the Chargers — given that Daboll and Bolts GM Tom Telesco went to high school together — may be the destination to monitor. While the Chargers have not fired Anthony Lynn, who is well-liked by Bolts players, the team is 3-9 after a 5-11 season. This would point to Lynn likely being ousted after his fourth season in Los Angeles.
  • Unlike the Texans, the Falcons and Lions will not be using a search firm as they look for new HCs, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Longtime front office exec Rich McKay will presumably lead Atlanta’s search, while team president Rod Wood remains in power in Detroit.
  • After two seasons out of the NFL, Marvin Lewis has resurfaced on coaching radars. The longtime Bengals HC’s name has continued to come up for possible 2021 gigs, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah tweets. He is expected to land interviews, according to ESPN. Lewis interviewed for the Cowboys post that went to Mike McCarthy and was connected to the Washington job that went to Ron Rivera. The Vikings also sought him for a defensive role in 2019. Lewis, 62, currently serves as Arizona State’s co-defensive coordinator under Herm Edwards.
  • While Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald would stand to be the Bearstop choice — were they to replace Matt Nagy — the prospect of the longtime Big Ten leader rising to the NFL is quiet, per Graziano and Fowler. After Northwestern’s 2018 season, Fitzgerald said he would not consider NFL jobs. But the pandemic may have made him more receptive to making the jump. The Bears figure to be the leading candidate, were Fitzgerald to express interest. And Bears minority owner Pat Ryan, also a Northwestern alum, is a big fan of the current Wildcats HC, per ESPN.
  • The Broncos will have their defensive coordinator back after his extensive bout with COVID-19, Mike Klis of 9News notes. Ed Donatell, 63, believed he was nearly recovered from the coronavirus, but on Day 9 of his battle with it, he experienced symptoms severe enough he needed to be hospitalized. The second-year Denver DC, who had never previously missed a game in his coaching career, missed six games. He will coach from the press box Sunday against the Panthers.

HC/GM Rumors: Lynn, Harbaugh, Bears

Three head coaches and two GMs have already been fired this season, and there will be more dismissals to come. We learned this morning that Eagles HC Doug Pederson is on the hot seat, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com says Chargers HC Anthony Lynn is in danger of losing his job as well.

The Bolts gave Lynn a modest vote of confidence this offseason by handing him a one-year extension through 2021, but despite the emergence of rookie signal-caller Justin Herbert, Lynn’s squad has limped to a 3-8 record. Several of those losses have been of the heartbreaking variety that Chargers fans have become accustomed to, and Lynn’s in-game decisions have been called into question.

The 51-year-old is highly-regarded in the Chargers’ building, and he did lead his club to a 12-4 record two seasons ago. If he does get fired, he probably won’t have a difficult time finding another HC gig.

Now for more from the HC/GM rumor mill:

  • Jim Harbaugh‘s days with the University of Michigan appear to be numbered, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk says the former 49ers HC is eyeing an NFL return. Florio adds that a number of clubs are already “doing their homework” on Harbaugh, who could be one of a number of prominent college coaches looking to make a leap to the pros.
  • A few weeks ago, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said the Bears “could” move on from HC Matt Nagy at season’s end. Now, La Canfora says it’s more likely than not that Nagy will be ousted and that Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be Chicago’s top choice for Nagy’s replacement.
  • Although Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has drawn plenty of interest and is expected to get his first HC job this offseason, Kansas City quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Mike Kafka is also a name to watch, per La Canfora. We knew that the Eagles were interested in Kafka as an OC last offseason, and JLC says the 33-year-old former QB also had the opportunity to take a head coaching interview. Kafka declined, as he wanted to continue to learn under Andy Reid, but he will be a top target for HC and OC openings in 2021.
  • As far as GM jobs go, former Giants general manager Jerry Reese is expected to draw interest for the Lions‘ GM opening, as La Canfora writes. Reese, who was fired by Big Blue in 2017, wants to return to an NFL front office and has the support from advisors to the Ford family (including Ernie Accorsi, whom Reese succeeded as Giants GM in 2007).
  • The Texans are expected to interview former Chiefs and Browns GM John Dorsey, according to La Canfora. Dorsey was fired by Cleveland at the end of last season, but it would be fair to blame more of the Browns’ disappointing 2019 campaign on former head coach Freddie Kitchens than on Dorsey. After all, Cleveland is now poised for a playoff berth with a roster that Dorsey largely constructed, and Dorsey also has ties to Bieniemy, who has been heavily connected to Houston’s HC job.
  • An unfortunate neck injury may have brought an end to A.Q. Shipley‘s playing career, but he will get the chance to join the Buccaneers‘ coaching staff, as Carmen Vitali of the team’s official website writes. Shipley has long been a favorite of Tampa HC Bruce Arians, who believes the veteran center has all the makings of an excellent coach.

Coaching Rumors: Crennel, Quinn, Fitzgerald

The Texans fired head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien last month following an 0-4 start, and interim HC Romeo Crennel has righted the ship a bit. Under Crennel’s watch, Houston is 2-2, and while those two wins came against the lowly Jaguars, the Texans came within an eyelash of toppling the Titans in Week 6.

Crennel, 73, has been viewed as a placeholder for 2020, but he could retain the gig through the 2021 season, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes. COVID-19 restrictions will probably not permit a traditional in-person search this offseason, so teams hiring a new HC could be committing a boatload of money to a person they have never even met. As such, the Texans might stick with Crennel next season and seek their long-term answer the following year. If that happens, VP of football operations Jack Easterby may continue serving as GM.

Of course, the team has been connected to Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, who is a favorite of QB Deshaun Watson. Bieniemy is widely expected to secure a head coaching job this offseason regardless of travel restrictions, so if Houston wants him, it might need to take a leap of faith. And John McClain of the Houston Chronicle says the Texans will indeed hire a new GM and HC at season’s end, while fellow Houston Chronicle scribe Aaron Wilson says the search remains active (Twitter links).

Now for more a few more coaching rumors:

  • The Falcons parted ways with HC Dan Quinn earlier this season, but it doesn’t sound like Quinn will be out of work for long. Per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, several teams have made it known that they would like to have Quinn on their staff in 2021, and coordinators who might become head coaches next season have tapped Quinn as their first choice for defensive coordinator. La Canfora says Quinn could rejoin the Seahawks given Seattle’s defensive struggles this year, and he could also end up as the 49ers‘ DC if Robert Saleh gets a head coaching job.
  • Given the financial toll that the pandemic has taken on college athletic departments, top college coaches have become increasingly receptive to a jump to the NFL, as La Canfora details in a separate piece. Names like Lincoln Riley, Jim Harbaugh, and Brian Kelly, who frequently come up in offseason coaching rumors, will again be at the forefront of the discussion in 2021.
  • Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has drawn interest from NFL teams in the past, and as of January 2019, he indicated he was not interested in NFL opportunities. However, COVID-19 might make him more receptive to an HC job in the pros, and his hometown Bears could come calling. La Canfora says Bears ownership is high on Fitzgerald, and if Chicago moves on from Matt Nagy, Fitzgerald might be on the top of the team’s wish-list.

Pat Fitzgerald Won’t Consider NFL Jobs

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will not leave the collegiate game for the NFL, his agent tells Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link).

Fitzgerald has recently been adamant that he won’t leave Northwestern, but NFL clubs were still interested in his services. The Packers, for one, were expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald, and Silverstein reports Fitzgerald actually received multiple inquiries from the league. Packers president Mark Murphy hired Fitzgerald at Northwestern, but that connection wasn’t enough to sway Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, 44, has been mentioned as an NFL candidate since at least 2015. A former player at Northwestern, Fitzgerald began coaching the Wildcats’ defensive backs in 2001, and was eventually named head coach in 2006. He’s since transformed the program, posting a 92-70 record during his time in Evanston.

Fitzgerald inked a 10-year extension with Northwestern in 2017. His salary is not publicly available, but Fitzgerald is believed to be among the highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Packers, Bucs, Broncos

Despite Pat Fitzgerald emphatically proclaiming he was staying at Northwestern following Monday night’s Holiday Bowl win, the Packers are still going to make an attempt to interview him, Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report. The Packers were expected to reach out with an interview request, with GM Brian Gutekunst expressing great admiration for the Northwestern coach and Packers president Mark Murphy having hired Fitzgerald when he was at Northwestern, but nothing has transpired yet. The 13-year Wildcats leader said Northwestern was “not going anywhere” and Chicago was “home forever.” Mike McCarthy made more than $8MM last season, according to Silverstein and Owczarski, who suspect the Packers may have to offer at least that — despite Fitzgerald having never coached in the NFL — to entice the 44-year-old college coach. The Packers have thus far requested interviews with Josh McDaniels, Mike Munchak, Dan Campbell, Matt LaFleur and Brian Flores.

Here is the latest from the coaching front on New Year’s Day:

  • The Buccaneers will have a chance to interview Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards. The parties will meet Thursday for a head coach meeting, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). Thus far on the coaching carousel, Edwards — the Vikings’ DC for the past five seasons and formerly the Bills’ and Redskins’ DC — has only been connected to Tampa Bay’s vacancy.
  • Gary Kubiak may well be returning to the sideline, in a non-HC capacity. Kubiak stepped down from his role as the Broncos‘ head coach after the 2016 season, citing health concerns, but John Elway said his longtime friend may end up as part of Denver’s 2019 offensive staff. “We’ll see. We’re still in that process,” Elway said. “We still have a lot of things to go over before that, but I think it could be where it is, it could be on the offensive side [as a coach]. We’ll see what that role may be, but Gary will be around.” Kubiak has worked in the Broncos’ front office the past two years. Denver is expected to interview Vic Fangio, Flores and Chuck Pagano (while also set to meet with Rams QBs coach Zac Taylor and Steelers OL coach Mike Munchak). Going defense for a second straight hire would point to Kubiak being in line to take over as offensive coordinator.
  • Dan Quinn‘s Falcons staff continues to undergo changes. The Falcons have parted ways with tight ends coach Wade Harman, multiple sources tell Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Harman had served in this role for four seasons and had been with the Falcons for five, operating as Atlanta’s offensive line coach in 2014.
  • The Bills‘ offensive line coach and run-game coordinator the past two years, Juan Castillo received his walking papers on Tuesday, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. Castillo has worked on both sides of the ball, serving as the Eagles’ DC from 2011-12 before shifting back to offense in his roles since.
  • Despite going 4-12, the 49ers will not shake up their staff. Robert Saleh will stay on as San Francisco’s DC, doing so after his unit set NFL records for fewest interceptions (two) in a season and takeaways (seven) in a season. Kyle Shanahan said (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) his entire staff will be back in 2019.