Northwestern University on Monday fired Pat Fitzgerald, its longtime head football coach, after an investigation found that his players had participated in widespread hazing, including forced nudity and sexualized acts.
His firing came three days after the university said that Fitzgerald, who had been head coach of the Wildcats since 2006, would be suspended for two weeks without pay after the investigation found the hazing allegations to be credible.
Michael Schill, the president of Northwestern, 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 is the decision to part ways with him,” Schill said.
The announcement of the firing came after The Daily Northwestern reported on Saturday that a player, who requested anonymity from the paper, accused players of punishing mainly freshmen in a sexual act that involved roughly 10 teammates restraining a younger player. On Monday, The Daily Northwestern also reported that three former football players said there was a racist culture in the football program.
Fitzgerald, a Northwestern alumnus who played linebacker as an undergraduate, could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday night.
The university’s investigation, conducted by Maggie Hickey of the law firm ArentFox Schiff, was prompted by an anonymous complaint from a student-athlete in November 2022 and spanned six months. The investigation did not find evidence that Fitzgerald knew about the hazing — though it was “well-known by many in the program,” Schill said.
Some players “believed the hazing was in jest and not harmful,” but others said it caused “significant harm with long-term consequences,” according to the law firm’s investigation.
Schill said that, to his knowledge, “no student suffered physical injury as a result of these behaviors.”
Still, 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 with the opportunity to learn what was happening.”
Fitzgerald had been 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.