Pat Fitzgerald is a better man than I.
In the middle of his ninth season as the head coach here at Northwestern, the guy does something that I couldn’t ever imagine doing – he talks to the media, nearly every day.
And he doesn’t just stand up at the podium and give the bare minimum, either. He interacts with the press, jokes with them and gives thoughtful and sincere answers.
Through his head coaching career, all those minutes add up. His team plays or practices six days a week, and he spends about 20 minutes talking to the press - either in a press conference, individual interview or some other form of it – per session. There are 12 games – therefore 12 weeks of this – in a season. Throw in a couple extra weeks for postseason play (he’s made it to five bowls), about a month for training camp and several more weeks for spring practice. That is a giant chunk of his life dedicated to talking to guys like me.
After hundreds and hundreds of hours spent talking to the press through his career, he still gives the thoughtful and sincere answers that every journalist hopes to extract from an interview. It's simply amazing. Put me on that podium for a tenth as long as Fitz has been up there, and I would resort to one-word answers in order to get the hell out of there.
I fully understand Fitzgerald isn’t the only coach who talks to the media. Every other Division 1 football coach does the same. I only use Fitzgerald as the example because I have spoken to him and know what he does on a daily basis with the media.
Today, and after the last few games, that’s probably no big deal. Fitzgerald probably enjoys hearing journalists ask him, in awe, how he’s managed to upset two Big Ten opponents.
But for some of this season, most of last season and even more in the past, the questions don’t have the undertone of “Oh wow, your team is so good!”
And somehow, Fitzgerald has had the patience to answer most all of those questions, often still with a smile on his face.
In the past, people have questioned his schemes, his philosophies, even sometimes his intelligence and savviness as a coach.
He’s been playing and coaching football for a really, really long time. He started playing football when he was a kid and when his playing career ended, he immediately went into coaching. He’s 39 years old now and has spent decades surrounded by football. The bottom line: the guy knows the game.
That’s what playing and coaching it for decades will do for you. So when people who have never played a down of football question everything that he does as a coach, it’s simply amazing and inspiring that he answers with sincerity and doesn’t get angry.
The journalists are not in the wrong at all – this column is not criticizing the sports journalists. They ask the difficult questions that every good journalist is supposed to ask. They criticize the team when they play poorly. They do their job and they do it very well.
But, if every single time I published an article, someone picked it apart letter by letter – much like people do with division one football teams – I would lose my cool.
Fitzgerald has every letter picked apart, pretty much every day, no matter what happens. But, he comes back and talks to us, still joking around and giving thoughtful answers to questions that he knows could, and often are, later used against him.
Pat, I respect what you do. I certainly couldn’t do it. I’d go nuts the second time someone told me to use an introductory adverbial clause instead of a gerund, even if that suggestion was correct. You’re simply a better and more patient man than I.
I know you will probably never read this. But on the off chance you do, let’s cut a deal: the next time I question you on a day that you're just having none of it ('cause everyone has those days), go ahead and throw me in at corner and tell me to try to cover Miles Shuler in practice.
Because I’m sure that watching a journalist get embarrassed while playing football would be a nice change of pace. And you deserve it.