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Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald fired over hazing details reported by players

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald fired amid hazing accusations
Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald fired amid hazing accusations 03:33

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Northwestern University fired its head football coach Pat Fitzgerald amid details of hazing in the Wildcats program made at the end of the 2022 season, the school announced Monday.

University President Michael Schill announced in a letter that he informed Fitzgerald he was relieved of his duties.

"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," Schill wrote.

Fitzgerald was the face of Northwestern football going back to his days playing linebacker in the 1990s. His firing ends a 17-year run as head coach of his alma mater, during which he had a 110-101 regular season record and went 5-5 in bowl games.

Schill said on Sunday he may have erred in only suspending Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay following the completion of an investigation into the hazing allegations. However, the coach said he didn't know about the alleged incidents. Schill said the results of that independent investigation will remain confidential.

The Daily Northwestern spoke with a former player who described a pattern of "vile and inhumane" behavior, including a practice known as "running," which involves first-year students being restrained while older players engage in a sexualized act. 

Schill's letter also spelled out new details of the school's investigation, including that 11 current and former players acknowledged that "hazing was systemic dating back many years." The acts included "forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature," and it was "well-known by many in the program." He added the independent investigation "failed to find any credible evidence that Coach Fitzgerald himself knew about it."

Lester Munson covered Northwestern for decades for ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

"So it's completely implausible that he did not know about this," Munson said.

During hearings on Northwestern players' efforts to unionize, Munson saw how closely Fitzgerald was tied to all aspects of player life.

"Based on that hearing, we know that Coach Fitzgerald is a guy who is in total, daily, hourly, specific control of those players," Munson said.

Former players also spoke out about the alleged abuse to other news media outlets.

Ramon Diaz Jr., who was an offensive lineman for Northwestern from 2005 to 2009, said on CBS Mornings that hazing was common in the locker room. 

"People were urinating on other people in the showers," he said.

"One player I heard from who graduated in 2007, he confirmed the wash activity in which players would rub against each other naked in the shower occurred when he was an active player," said Bradley Locker, a Northwestern student, and co-editor-in-chief for Inside NU, who has reported on the hazing allegations.

Locker added, "The player who I talked to who was recent said this was a widespread issue, including Pat Fitzgerald and the assistant coaches."

Northwestern football players react to Pat Fitzgerald's firing amid hazing scandal 01:33

In a letter signed, "The ENTIRE Northwestern football team," the players said details in a Daily Northwestern story about the allegations were "exaggerated and twisted."

The players said Fitzgerald "was not involved in the alleged incidents in any way."

Locker said some former players also told him that the incidents "just didn't happen at all, but others have said that this very much did happen."

In explaining the reason for Fitzgerald's firing, Schill added, "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."

The Daily Northwestern also published reports on Monday that detailed possible racism within the football program.

New leadership for the football team is expected to be announced in the coming days.

Fitzgerald also is hiring attorney Dan Webb to "take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law." In a statement, Fitzgerald said he was surprised that Schill terminated his employment unilaterally.

Also, on Monday, Northwestern's baseball coach Jim Foster came under fire after 670 The Score reported a toxic environment in the program, including allegations of coaches making sexist and racist comments that led to a human resources investigation. He just finished his first season in Evanston. 

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