The attorney for former Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is seeking a December trial date for Fitzgerald’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the university, primarily because Fitzgerald wants to avoid sitting out a third season before coaching again and the date the judge had proposed is April 2025.
During a virtual court hearing Tuesday in Chicago, attorney Dan Webb said Fitzgerald, who was fired July 10 by Northwestern president Michael Schill in the wake of hazing allegations within the program, would not be rehired until his case is resolved.
Fitzgerald appeared in the virtual hearing alongside Webb.
Fitzgerald did not coach college football last fall and has not been hired to a college staff for the 2024 season. In October, Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit against Northwestern and Schill for breach of contract and defamation in which he sought more than $130 million in lost earnings as well as reputational and punitive damages.
“I’m told by experts that if he misses that third season, then it’s going to have a severe impact on his ability to ever get a chance to get any kind of comparable coaching job,” Webb said. “It’s just the way football coaching [hiring] works. Football coaching decisions are made by teams in December, so in December of 2024 and January 2025, there will be decisions made on who’s going to coach in the 2025 season.
“I was trying to rescue his ability to compete in 2025.”
Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel J. Kubasiak had proposed April 2025 as a possible date to try the case but did not set a trial date Tuesday. Northwestern attorney Reid Schar said the 2025 date is “aggressive” but more achievable than December, citing the large number of discovery documents. Schar said that about 700,000 documents have been reviewed and that June 30 would be a realistic date to complete the document production.
“Ultimately, the plaintiff chose to bring this case,” Schar said. “The plaintiff … ultimately could not resolve it ahead of bringing this. He has chosen to pursue this litigation. And so, we have to pick a schedule that’s actually achievable, not one that’s defined by what he might want to do with the rest of his life but one that’s actually achievable and fair to both parties, not just what he wants.”
The parties will reconvene April 2 for another hearing. Kubasiak “strongly encouraged” both sides to reach a settlement before trial.
“I don’t think any party wins if this matter goes to trial,” he said. “This is clearly the type of matter that should be resolved between the parties.”
Northwestern fired Fitzgerald for cause, just three days after announcing the coach would serve only a two-week unpaid suspension before the start of preseason training camp. After receiving a complaint about hazing within the program in November 2022, the university launched an investigation in January 2023, led by attorney Maggie Hickey. The probe found that while claims of hazing from a former player were largely corroborated, there was not sufficient evidence that Fitzgerald and other coaches and staff had knowledge of the incidents.
Webb on Tuesday cited the investigation and described Schill’s decision to fire Fitzgerald as “a bizarre turnaround that I don’t even know how to explain,” adding that the decision has “decimated” Fitzgerald’s career. Schar countered by noting that additional allegations of hazing have surfaced from other former players who did not speak to Hickey or the other investigators.
“If somehow the belief is that this is a simple case because it’s bound by what Maggie Hickey’s report found, that is not an accurate assessment of the complications of this case and the additional evidence that’s going to be relevant in this case,” Schar said.
Fitzgerald is Northwestern’s winningest coach, with 110 victories in 17 seasons. He also is a former two-time national defensive player of the year at the school.