Attorney says Northwestern fired coach Pat Fitzgerald for cause

Adam RittenbergESPN Senior WriterJuly 11, 2023, 07:08 PM ET4 minutes of reading

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Evanston, Ill. — Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald for cause, his attorney told ESPN on Tuesday, setting up a potential legal battle between the College Football Hall of Famer and his alma mater.

Attorney Dan Webb said he contacted Northwestern’s general counsel to inform him of the dismissal for cause for Fitzgerald, who led the team since 2006 and is the school’s former two-time national defensive player of the year. University President Michael Shill fired Fitzgerald on Monday afternoon, citing a “fractured” team culture in part following an investigation into chaos in the program.

Webb is exploring legal strategies and has not filed suit, but he cited “two separate major contract breaches” with Northwestern and significant reputational damage.

Northwestern Web has not said whether it intends to withhold the remaining salary on Fitzgerald’s 10-year contract, which was signed in January 2021.

In addition to Fitzgerald’s employment contract, Webb told ESPN that Northwestern violated an oral agreement reached last week between Coach Schill and the university’s general counsel. Northwestern announced a two-week unpaid suspension to Fitzgerald on Friday, one of several response measures.

An investigation by attorney Maggie Hickey and the firm ArentFox Schiff found no evidence that Fitzgerald or other coaches at Northwestern were aware of the abusive practices, but had opportunities to detect and report the behavior.

“I cannot understand how someone can be fired for cause [Northwestern] “I agree with my client that their own attorney had no evidence that they knew anything about any outrageous conduct,” Webb said. “You can fire someone for cause when you know nothing about them.” [the incidents].”

Webb said Northwestern general counsel Stephanie Graham confirmed to her that the school and Fitzgerald had agreed to a two-week suspension prior to Friday’s announcement. Graham told Fitzgerald and his agent, Brian Harlan, “That’s it.”

Northwestern declined comment when asked about the oral agreement and the reason for Fitzgerald’s firing.

“Under Illinois law, an oral agreement is a contract,” said Webb, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “They have all the facts. They thought a two-week suspension without pay was the right punishment. That was their judgment. They decided. We agreed to do that, and we issued a statement in their favor. .

“So, they’ve now violated the oral agreement and caused great damage to his reputation. For no reason at all. This whole goings-on in the North West, I just can’t understand.”

Webb contends Northwestern had “no new information” between the initial two-week suspension for Fitzgerald and his firing, noting that details of the hazing reported by The Daily Northwestern on Saturday mirror what Hickey said during the hearing.

Webb is open to an out-of-court settlement, but he also noted the reputational damage caused by Fitzgerald’s firing.

“There’s a big reputational issue, and that’s part of it,” Webb said. “If we litigate, it would be very large damages, because he can claim damages for eight years left on his contract. And for 10 years in the future, he can’t replace it. So, you’re talking about a huge amount.”

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