The Northwestern Wildcats had a banner year this academic season. They were one of the few programs to not only win a bowl game but also send a team to the NCAA Tournament.
Considering Northwestern’s history in both football and basketball, accomplishing one would have been a banner year. Doing both is downright historic.
And now both football coach Pat Fitzgerald and basketball coach Chris Collins are in line to get a raise and locked into long-term contracts with Northwestern.
Northwestern has called a press conference Tuesday at the Under Armour store in Downtown Chicago where it is expected, according to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, the school will announce contract extensions for the program’s coaches of the two revenue sports.
Both extensions come at a time of great success and growth for both programs.
In addition to their successes on the court and field, both programs are going to get benefits off the field too.
The football program has already conducted some practices at Hutcheson Field on campus. Ryan Fieldhouse, along with the attendant facilities associated with that building along the shores of Lake Michigan, will open in Summer 2018.
The basketball program will play its games at Allstate Arena this season as its home Welsh-Ryan Arena gets a major renovation and facelift.
Both projects represent huge financial investments from the athletic department and Northwestern University in these programs. It is the kind of investments that should make Northwestern much more competitive with other similar programs and throughout the Big Ten. It would seem like it will be a big boost to both programs.
For Collins, it would appear Northwestern made a large financial investment too. Greenstein reports Collins will receive a raise to north of $3 million per year in salary, more than Illinois coach Brad Underwood will receive. It makes Collins’ salary more competitive with other coaches in the Big Ten.
It is believed Collins’ contract will run through the 2025 season. Brett McMurphy of ESPN reports Fitzgerald’s contract will run through 2026.
Undoubtedly, both Collins and Fitzgerald have taken Northwestern to unprecedented heights.
Fitzgerald has made a bowl game a regular occurrence in his 10 years as head coach. The Wildcats have been to seven games in Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. They went to just six bowl games prior to his promotion to the lead job. Fitzgerald was the head coach for two of the program’s three bowl wins.
Similarly, Collins was the coach who finally led Northwestern to the basketball promised land. The Wildcats qualified for their first NCAA Tournament in program history last season, defeating Vanderbilt in the first round before losing to eventual national runner up Gonzaga.
For a program like Northwestern, there is always the threat of losing their coaches to bigger prgormas. Fitzgerald even flirted with heading to Michigan before the team hired Brady Hoke in 2011. That is when Northwestern made an initial seven-year commitment to Fitzgerald.
The added facilities and the success on the field has only deepened these ties. And with so much on the horizon for Northwestern, it made sense for the school to lock down both coaches.
And it does make sense for both to stay.
Fitzgerald is a Northwestern alum and one of its best all-time players, helping lead Northwestern to the magical 1995 Big Ten title run and the 1996 Rose Bowl.
Similarly, Collins grew up in nearby Northbrook, Ill. He played his state championship game in Welsh-Ryan Arena. Chicago is his home, even though he joined the Duke family. It feels like the only job he might leave Northwestern for at this point is to replace Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. And even that may seem a longer shot with Collins now becoming Northwestern’s version of Coach K if he can build off his success in reaching the NCAA tournament this past year.
Easily both Fitzgerald and Collins have taken their respective programs to new heights that deserve some recognition and compensation. Northwestern is now ensuring they are doing that, locking in the two coaches that have taken their athletic department to their highest marks.