Today is Bloody Monday around the NFL as the regular season has come to a close. Head coaching vacancies have been made with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and more. And with the NFL coaching carousel now in full swing, do not be surprised to hear some conversation pick up about potential candidates coming from the world of college football.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has been one of the trendy names to follow in the NFL rumor mill, although the head coach of the Wolverines appears to be keeping his distance whenever asked about the possibility of pursuing a job in the NFL. Harbaugh has stated he does not really have representatives, and the Jets have turned aside the rumors suggesting the franchise was looking to make a push for Harbaugh.
For years, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has been seen as a likely candidate to make the jump to the NFL at some point in time. Coming off an undefeated regular season only to be shown the exit from the College Football Playoff in dominant fashion against Clemson will certainly have some suggesting Kelly may have tapped out at Notre Dame and could be willing to look for a new challenge. Confirming his allegiance to Notre Dame is nothing new for Kelly, as he’s been doing it multiple times during his time in South Bend. We’ll see if anyone kicks up some dust on his name for a potential job opening.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has had his name thrown around by some NFL folks, and with the success of Baker Mayield in his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns, it’s not difficult to understand why. Former Texas Tech head coach and current USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury has also had his name tossed around at times, more likely as a coordinator however. There are also reports that Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald could get a look from the Green Bay Packers. Former Washington and USC head coach and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian could be out of a job as Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, so it would not be out of the question Sarkisian makes his way back to college football in some capacity either. This thing works both ways, right?
Then there are the college coaches who have some previous NFL head coaching experience. Good luck prying Nick Saban back to the NFL when he is the God of Alabama football at the height of his career, but might an NFL franchise be willing to give a guy like Herm Edwards another shot after proving some doubters wrong in his first season at Arizona State? Given how coaching hires are made, recycling a veteran coach like Edwards would hardly be a surprising move by some NFL franchise.
This time of the year, nothing should be considered completely off the table, so brace yourselves, college football fans. This coaching carousel isn’t quite done just yet (and it was already potentially in motion with some recent vacancies already opened up at Houston and Temple).
Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald has just landed his biggest recruit as head coach of the Wildcats. Hunter Johnson, a former five-star quarterback, has officially been added to the Northwestern football family after a transfer from Clemson.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of the Wildcat family,” Johnson said in a released statement. “The program that Coach Fitzgerald and his staff have built at Northwestern is phenomenal, and one my family has had the opportunity to get to know and trust. I am thankful to Coach Swinney and the Clemson family for all their support over the past year-and-a-half.”
“We are ecstatic to add a player of Hunter’s caliber and character to our program,” said Fitzgerald in a released statement. “He comes from an outstanding family, one we’ve had the opportunity to know for many years, and he will fit right in to the culture we continue to build here in Evanston. I’m excited for the opportunity to be his coach and look forward to him joining our football family on campus this month.”
Johnson will have to sit out the 2018 season due to standard NCAA transfer rules, which actually works out well for Northwestern anyway. The Wildcats will get one more year out of starter Clayton Thorson at quarterback before he moves on. That allows Johnson to spend a year getting adjusted to Northwestern and prepare for the starting job in 2019. Johnson will have three years of eligibility to use and can burn his redshirt season this year.
It was a game marred by penalties, ejections and injuries, but No. 21 Northwestern (10-3) sifted through all of the hurdles to capture a 24-23 victory against Kentucky (7-6) to win the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Friday evening. Running back Justin Jackson finished off a brilliant college career by rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns to put Northwestern on his back for the win.
Northwestern needed Jackson to carry the load after quarterback Clayton Thorson was lost to a serious-looking leg injury in the first half. Thorson was replaced by Matt Alviti after being carted off the field in the second quarter. Jackson was not alone in pounding out yardage on the ground. Jeremy Larkin got involved in a big way with 112 yards. As much as the Northwestern running game carried the way to victory, it was a big play by the defense that seemingly would help lift Northwestern to a win. Kyle Queiro‘s 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave Northwestern a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second interception of the game thrown by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson.
Northwestern gave Kentucky a chance to come back, however. After Kentucky kicked a field goal to create a seven-point deficit, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald made the incredibly bold decision to go for a first down on a 4th-and-1 on his own 39-yard line. After an instant replay upheld the fourth down stop, Kentucky went to work to try and get in the end zone. A pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-6 by Northwestern gave Kentucky the ball at the nine-yard line, and Johnson ran it in for a score.
Rather than go for a tie in the final minute of the game, Kentucky opted to go for a two-point conversion, but the pass attempt by Johnson fell incomplete. Northwestern then recovered the kickoff to run out the clock.
Northwestern has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. It is also the second time in three years Northwestern has hit 10 wins, and the third time under Fitzgerald. With the win, the Big Ten improves to 4-0 this bowl season, while the SEC drops to 0-3 out of the gates. Kentucky has not won a bowl game since 2008.
Northwestern will open the 2018 season with a conference game against Purdue on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. The Wildcats have a tough draw in cross-division play with Michigan and a road game at Michigan State in back-to-back weeks followed by a home game against Nebraska. Northwestern also hosts Notre Dame next November Kentucky begins the 2018 season at home on Sep. 1, 2018 against Central Michigan before a Week 2 road trip to Florida in SEC play.
Northwestern won its first NCAA tournament game in program history on Thursday with a victory over Vanderbilt in first round action. After such a thrilling experience on the court that Northwestern fans for decades have only been able to dream about, the Wildcats had to regroup and focus on the next objective at hand in the tournament. Football coach Pat Fitzgerald was having none of that. He wanted to hulk out and celebrate with the entire basketball team.
As Northwestern men’s basketball coach Chris Collins attempted to get his team to focus on No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the second round, a somewhat familiar voice chimed in with his feedback to remind the team they are among the best teams in the country. This is the moment players in the room recognized the football coach was in the room. As they thanked the coach for his compliment, Fitzgerald made his way through a group of people to hulk out in celebration.
Fitzgerald knows a thing or two about breaking some droughts at Northwestern. In 2012, Fitzgerald coached Northwestern to the first bowl victory in school history since the 1948 season. He added a second bowl victory this past bowl season, meaning that for the first time in school history the students got to celebrate a bowl victory and a victory in the NCAA tournament in the same academic year. That used to be just a dream scenario for decades in Evanston.
If Northwestern can pull the upset of Gonzaga, hopefully somebody will keep a camera locked in on Fitzgerald for his reaction.
After knocking off Stanford in one of the biggest Week 1 stunners, Northwestern is hoping to catch a championship bug from the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL this week. Prior to kickoff on Saturday against Eastern Illinois, Northwestern will pay tribute to the most recent Stanley Cup champions.
Northwestern has announced Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz (a Northwestern alum and member on the university board of trustees), president & CEO John McDonough and executive vice president Jay Blunk will serve as honorary captains for the game, joining the team captains on the field for the coin toss. Also, as a special treat for fans attending the game, noted anthem singer Jim Cornelison will sing The Star-Spangled Banner. And yes, the Stanley Cup itself will make an appearance at Ryan Field, just as it did a few years ago after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 against the Philadelphia Flyers (as a Philadelphia-area native, this still rankles me).
Northwestern has been making every effort to connect itself with the nearby Chicago area, and this is merely the latest effort in that strategy. Northwestern brands itself as Chicago’s Big Ten team. Just a couple of years ago the Wildcats played a home game in Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. What would really be fun to see would be Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald come out and coach a game in his best Mike Ditka look. That would go a long way to Chicago fans embracing Northwestern. Unfortunately, Northwestern has a bye week on Halloween.