It doesn’t matter if you love or hate what has become of Michigan football this season, or if the drama around them has made you forget about Mel Tucker and Michigan State, we can all agree that they’ve both been the common denominator of their own drama. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been the only thorn in the Big Ten’s side.
Jim Harbaugh’s failure at Michigan
Misery loves company and let’s not forget that Northwestern got this party started.
The Wildcats’ 23-15 win over Purdue on Saturday means they’re going to a bowl game to finish the most tumultuous season in Northwestern history. They’ll also be doing it with David Braun at the helm, as the interim coach was made permanent.
“Upon his arrival at Northwestern, I quickly identified that Coach Braun embodies the values of our athletic department: respect, integrity, service and excellence,” said Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg in a statement. “It was the right decision to appoint him as the interim leader and I congratulate Coach Braun on being named the head coach of our football program. He has earned this position. Coach Braun has rallied the team under very adverse circumstances. He has gained the respect of the student-athletes, the staff, parents, alumni and our fans.”
I don’t think Gragg understands what “adverse circumstances” means. Because like Michigan and Michigan State, Northwestern did this to themselves.
Before anybody knew who Connor Stallions was, before Jim Harbaugh got suspended, before Sherrone Moore cried on TV, and long before Michigan State put Adolf Hitler on a video board, the college football world was focused on Pat Fitzgerald and Evanston, Ill.
Fitzgerald was fired earlier this season “in the wake of a hazing and abuse scandal that has engulfed the athletic department,” reported the Associated Press. Depending on who you believe, Fitzgerald didn’t know a thing or encouraged the acts as an alum and former star of the team. There were reports of the players at Northwestern going after the whistle-blower and members of the student newspaper staff that broke this story, as former players took to social media to support Fitzgerald. There were allegations about the cheerleading and baseball teams, too.
“I have been very clear that at Northwestern the well-being of our students comes first,” said Northwestern president Michael Schill about the decision to hire Braun. “It is only by prioritizing our students’ health, safety and well-being that we can enable excellence on the field, excellence in the classroom, that we can encourage the personal and intellectual growth that is fundamental to our mission as one of the greatest universities in the world. Anyone who has heard or talked with Coach Braun knows that he embodies these principles in just a short time since arriving at Northwestern.”
While Braun is new to Evanston after being hired in the offseason, he inherited Fitzgerald’s program, as the school decided to keep the staff in place after the firing. This is an important fact to remember as some of those holdovers wore “Cats against the world” shirts — featuring Fitzgerald’s No. 51 from his playing days — as they tried to turn him into a victim in the same way Michigan has done with Harbaugh.
So as we enter the final weekend of the regular season, most of the country’s attention will be focused on what will happen to Michigan and how their situation will play out. But outside of the happenings in Ann Arbor, Tucker’s firing in East Lansing, and an alleged conference-wide sign-stealing scandal that’s hung over the Big Ten like a cloud, let’s not forget that the bad weather started with a tornado that came from the northern suburbs of Chicago.