Pat Fitzgerald (BS97) Receives Alumni Merit Award

Pat Fitzgerald (BS97) Receives Alumni Merit Award

Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald (BS97) is the 2012 recipient of the Northwestern Alumni Association Alumni Merit Award from the School of Education and Social Policy. Alumni Merit Awards are given to alumni for high achievement in a profession or field of endeavor, with recipients chosen by the schools they attended.

For the past six seasons as the head football coach for the Wildcats, Fitzgerald has kept the Northwestern program on the rise, leading his teams to an unprecedented four consecutive bowl appearances. Even more impressive: every player who has entered Northwestern as a freshman and completed his football eligibility as a Wildcat has graduated.

The hard-charging linebacker led the Wildcats to a pair of Big Ten titles in the mid-1990s — and a 15-1 record in conference play from 1995 to 1996 — along with a historic berth in the 1996 Rose Bowl. And in the process he helped diffuse the myth that Northwestern, because of its strenuous academic standards, was no place for talented athletes.

Fitzgerald has been head coach since 2006, taking over in the wake of the sudden passing of Randy Walker. The players have an excellent role model. The centerpiece of a dominating defense, Fitzgerald was a two-time winner of both the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards, given to the top defensive player in all of college football.

In 2008, Fitzgerald was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame — an honor that eludes even some members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Still, when Fitzgerald speaks of what he treasures most about his time as a Northwestern student, the first thing he brings up is often not related to football.

“I think through the daily interaction with great professors and very similar students that wanted to go into business or education — something involving the human aspect or the interactions of life — was a perfect fit for what I’m doing today and it has influenced me greatly,” he says. Fitzgerald and his family reside in Northfield, Illinois.

The annual ceremony of the Northwestern Alumni Association on March 3 brought together more than 450 alumni, faculty, administrators, family and friends. Thomas Z. Hayward Jr., a Northwestern University Life Trustee and past president of the Northwestern Alumni Association, was given the Alumni Medal, the top award bestowed by the association. Eighteen others received Alumni Merit, Service and Emerging Leader awards, and a non-alumnus was recognized for his service to the University during the 79th annual Alumni

Since 1932, the NAA has honored alumni who have distinguished themselves as outstanding professional and personal achievers in their fields and who have loyally dedicated their time and service to their alma mater. This year’s award recipients have earned acclaim in business, engineering, journalism, the arts, law, athletics, medicine and health care.

In opening remarks, University President Morton Schapiro thanked the award recipients for their impressive contributions to the world and to Northwestern. The awards were presented by Michael Wilbon, the popular ESPN commentator, University Trustee and 1980 Medill alumnus, and Joan Etten Krall, the NAA executive director and an alumna of the School of Communication.

By Judy Moore, Northwestern Alumni Association and Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/20/12