IlliniGuys Talk With Inside NU Writers On Fitzgerald Firing

(Editor's Note: Bradley Locker and David Gold of Inside NU joined the IlliniGuys on the Sports Spectacular radio show this week to talk about their reporting on the Pat Fitzgerald scandal.  Listen to this week's show to hear the entire interview: Radio - IlliniGuys.com or watch the video here: https://illiniguys.com/illiniguys-interview-david-gold-and-bradley-locker/ )

 

Larry Smith:  Where does this start for you? We heard about Fitzgerald and the two weeks suspension and then what was the straw that broke the camel's back for you and where this all began in your great reporting?

David Gold:  So on Friday morning, around nine in the morning, I saw on Twitter that Northwestern had released their hazing investigation report, and Pat Fitzgerald had been suspended two weeks. So this summer, it's the middle of July. Normally, the summer is pretty dead for us. I'm working at a day camp as a camp counselor, and I had six-year-olds with fishing rods in their hands. So I'm trying to do that. And as I go on to now Northwestern, I see that they have released an executive summary of the report and say that there has been evidence corroborated in this investigation that the whistleblower who came forward in November of 2022. We found out in January 2023 that there was evidence of hazing inside the football program. However, they could not prove that a single coach or player was involved and that Pat Fitzgerald did not know. But the hazing conduct could have easily been discoverable and reportable. So that right away sparked something in me saying, 'so there was hazing, but no player or coach could be individually named, and Fitz didn't know but easily could have?' And that's where a lot of it came from me going, 'something's not right here'. So that was the original of it. Michael Schill, president of Northwestern, suspended Pat Fitzgerald two weeks without pay, effective immediately. But it's really important to know that that was during the NCAA dead period. So no recruiting visits, no contact with recruits, no practices. So Pat Fitzgerald got the two weeks unpaid vacation, which was supposed to run out Friday before Big 10 Media Day week and Fitz would have been back to his normal duties without really any significant punishment. And that's when I think everything kind of turned when the whistleblower contacted the Daily Northwestern on Friday night, and they released their huge piece on Saturday.

Brad Sturdy: How stunned were you when you heard these allegations?

Bradley Locker: For me, I was very sad. I mean, I grew up a Northwestern football fan. And Fitzgerald really had as clean of a resume, at least as it's seen as one can have in the sport. And a lot of the former players that I talked to, I think were very surprised for that exact reason that they could have never even fathom that Fitzgerald could have been associated with something like this. There had never been any reports of any scandals at all at Northwestern in his 17-year tenure until kind of everything started pouring out all at once. And again, as David mentioned, it really took off with the Daily Northwestern report. And from there, I believe multiple former staffers confirmed that those graphic, severe Coercive Acts of hazing occurred. I talked to a very recent former player who said that those accounts were 100% true and he believed that the assistant coaches were aware, Fitzgerald was aware and as he said, everybody else knew this was a widespread issue at Northwestern. And again, I think as more details started to emerge, it became pretty evident to me that this very much did occur. And not only was a recent phenomenon, but very much an institutional one. I think that's why we saw Northwestern make the decision it did in firing Fitzgerald.

DG: And just a follow-up, Bradley had really great reporting, had someone come forward and tell him that one of the main hazing things "The Carwash" was going on as early as 2007 happened...

BL: Actually earlier, the player graduated in 2007. So presumably earlier than 2007.

DG: That sounds like even before Pat Fitzgerald became head coach at Northwestern University. So it would have been very hard for Pat Fitzgerald to not know anything for his 17-year tenure as head coach and I think while plausible deniability sounded likely that Fitz was 'I don't want to know, don't tell me'.  Every college football head coach is in charge of their program completely; they control down to the minute what is going on for all their players. So for a head coach was there for 17 years to know nothing seemed far-fetched to me.

Mike Cagley:  So what kind of conversations did you have? When you were talking about 'okay, we're gonna go with this story'?

BL: I think for me, it all started with just touching base with our staff at Inside NU, which we have an amazing staff. And none of the reporting or even opinion pieces we put out would have been possible without all of their efforts over the last five days. But I think I immediately was definitely intrigued and of course alarmed by what I was reading and wanted to see if there was anybody I could get in contact with. Who could speak to this situation one way or another? And I should say, again, there are a lot of former players I talked to who said they didn't see any hazing at all that Fitzgerald again, would not have allowed something like this to happen. But of course, that certainly seems like a moot point when you have others who are saying that this definitely did occur. And it's noteworthy that the President shows an updated message to the community when he said that Fitzgerald was fired, but 11 players did confirm that that hazing occurred. So it's not as if this was just one whistleblower, who was supposedly out to get Fitzgerald.

DG: I think we all think we're all glued to our phones the entire weekend, between phone calls, text messages in our editorial board. Our group chat was crazy all weekend, on the phone, whatever we needed, it was an all hands on deck thing. I was bringing a computer to work like we were just doing whatever we could to help out.

BL: Every minute. I would say literally by minute new news we break it was truly one of the most I really would say like incomprehensible and ever-changing stories I've ever seen.

DG: The one I want to highlight the most was Monday, I got a call from Bradley probably around noon  Eastern. He's like I just talked to this former player who confirmed everything. I'm gonna run it. Okay. About maybe 10 minutes later, we got a message from our other editor-in-chief, Iggy Dowling, who says I got something a player with racist accusations and we're gonna run it. So within like 10 minutes, we had two massive news stories ready to go. And it was just one after the other until what I would say 6 pm Eastern on Monday night when I believe Matt Fortuna was the first to announce that Pat Fitzgerald was no longer being retained by Northwestern University

(For the full interview, listen to the IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular radio show this weekend on the following stations: Radio - IlliniGuys.com)

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