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Decision to Relieve Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald of His Duties

Dear Northwestern community,

This afternoon, I informed Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald that he was being relieved of his duties effective immediately.

The decision comes after a difficult and complex evaluation of my original discipline decision imposed last week on Coach Fitzgerald for his failure to know and prevent significant hazing in the football program. Over the last 72 hours, I have spent a great deal of time in thought and in discussions with people who love our University — the Chair and members of our Board of Trustees, faculty leadership, students, alumni and Coach Fitzgerald himself. I have also received many phone calls, text messages and emails from those I know, and those I don’t, sharing their thoughts. While I am appreciative of the feedback and considered it in my decision-making, ultimately, the decision to originally suspend Coach Fitzgerald was mine and mine alone, as is the decision to part ways with him.

While the independent investigative report will remain confidential, it is important for our community to know the facts. 

  • During the investigation, eleven current or former football student-athletes acknowledged that hazing has been ongoing within the football program. In new media reporting today, still more former Northwestern football student-athletes confirmed that hazing was systemic dating back many years. This has never been about one former student-athlete and his motives; this is much bigger than that.
  • The hazing included forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature, in clear violation of Northwestern policies and values. I am grateful that — to my knowledge — no student suffered physical injury as a result of these behaviors.
  • While some student-athletes believed the hazing was in jest and not harmful, others viewed it as causing significant harm with long-term consequences.
  • The hazing was well-known by many in the program, though the investigator failed to find any credible evidence that Coach Fitzgerald himself knew about it.
  • As the entire six-month independent investigation was confidential, I only recently learned many of the details, including the complainant’s identity. I spoke with his parents on Friday and the student on Sunday.

Since Friday, I have kept going back to what we should reasonably expect from our head coaches, our faculty and our campus leaders. And that is what led me to make this decision. The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team. 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. Either way, the culture in Northwestern Football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others.

There is no doubt that Coach Fitzgerald has had a tremendous impact on our institution, well beyond the football field. For nearly thirty years, he has given himself to Northwestern as a student-athlete, assistant coach and head coach, and he has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of young men. His players have almost all graduated and represented the University with distinction. Over the last two days, I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails describing how he has transformed the lives of current and former student-athletes. However, as much as Coach Fitzgerald has meant to our institution and our student-athletes, we have an obligation — in fact a responsibility — to live by our values, even when it means making difficult and painful decisions such as this one. We must move forward. 

I recognize that my decision will not be universally applauded, and there will be those in our community who may vehemently disagree with it. Ultimately, I am charged with acting in the best interests of the entire University, and this decision is reflective of that. The damage done to our institution is significant, as is the harm to some of our students.

In the days ahead, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics & Recreation Derrick Gragg will announce the leadership for this upcoming football season, and I encourage all of you to rally around the young men in our football program as they take the field this fall. As always, the welfare of our students is paramount and we will move forward expeditiously to make the reforms I outlined in my letter, dated July 8.

Over my ten months serving as your President, I have found the Northwestern University community to be proud, to be passionate, to be supportive, and yes, to be demanding. While today is a difficult day, I take solace in knowing that what we stand for endures. Finally, I am grateful for the partnership and support of the Board of Trustees and Chair Peter Barris.