The Pat Fitzgerald/Packers buzz has led to genuine curiosity, healthy skepticism and, because it's 2018, wagering odds.
Last week MyBookie.ag listed Fitzgerald as a co-favorite with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, at 6-1.
I'd say it's at least 16-1. But even at that, it's worth examining and asking several questions: Is Packers President Mark Murphy, the former Northwestern athletic director, genuinely interested? If so, would Fitzgerald reciprocate? If an offer were extended, would Fitzgerald actually leave Evanston for Green Bay? How long would it take him to adjust to ending media conversations with "Go Pack!" instead of "Go Cats!"?
Here are some thoughts after consulting with several people in the industry, including Fox Sports analyst Dave Wannstedt (former coach of the Bears, Dolphins and Pitt, his alma mater) plus a former college head coach who now works in the NFL and did not want to be named.
1. Two days after veteran Packers beat writer Tom Silverstein wrote, "it's almost a lock the Packers will contact Fitzgerald," CBS Sports NFL writer Jason La Canfora tweeted out a 1,500-word column to his 540,000 followers under the headline: "Packers' search for their next head coach should start with Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald."
La Canfora: "In this year where there are so few 'sure thing' head coaching candidates in the NFL, Fitzgerald would be the perfect boss for this club . Sure, I know the word on the street. Fitzgerald will never leave his alma mater . I (also) know that (Aaron) Rodgers is never going to be in his mid-30s again, and that this is a once-in-a-lifetime job right-bleeping-now."
2. Fitzgerald has been recruiting and running closed bowl-prep practices since the Big Ten title game. He responded to my inquiry via text with a "GO CATS!" and "I don't discuss rumors." Smart. Why get locked into promises you might not be able to keep? Plus the attention is good for recruiting. "Young man, I'd rather coach you than Aaron Rodgers."
3. Wannstedt, who is close with Fitzgerald (they share an agent in Chicagoan Bryan Harlan), said this of the Packers: "I think it's a great job. Mark Murphy will pay well and the coach will have support." And did we mention the quarterback is named Aaron Rodgers? Wannstedt had a good run in Miami (42-31), twice making the playoffs. And yet his best quarterback was Jay Fiedler.
4. If you have a great quarterback, you can win the Super Bowl.
5. Wannstedt said an NFL head coach has to be knowledgeable about the entire game and an expert in one phase - offense, defense or special teams. At Northwestern, Fitzgerald is associated with defense and special teams. His 2011 offense, coordinated by Mick McCall and run by quarterbacks Dan Persa and Kain Colter, finished fifth in the Big Ten in yards per play. Since then, that ranking has fallen to eighth, ninth, 14th, 14th, 10th, sixth and 12th. (The league expended to 14 teams in 2014.)
6. If the Packers are looking for someone to bring a "cutting-edge offense," as Silverstein wrote, I'm not sure how they can justify hiring Fitzgerald. NU's offense was futuristic in 2000, when Randy Walker and Kevin Wilson switched to a no-huddle, zone-read spread. Then almost everyone started doing it.
7. Former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie once told me the NFL is "pure football" - none of what some coaches consider the BS . recruiting, fundraising, dealing with academics, selling the program.
8. In college coaching, Wannstedt, said: "You have to enjoy recruiting and understand the importance of it because it's 24-7 . evaluating players and convincing them that you will be able to make the biggest difference in their lives."
9. Is Fitzgerald strong enough in X's and O's? Could he be the defensive equivalent of Matt Nagy? Consider this: As Northwestern's All-Everything linebacker in the mid-'90s, Fitzgerald would peer into the opponent's backfield, analyze the stances of the offensive linemen and signal to NU's defensive backs whether the play would be a run or pass. Cornerback Chris Martin said Fitzgerald was right 99 percent of the time. Which is to say, Fitzgerald loves the strategy and science of football. That's how a guy with 4.8 "speed" became a two-time national Defensive Player of the Year.
10. My personal thought: Fitzgerald absolutely could become the kind of X's and O's maven that flourishes in the NFL. But if he left the college game, he'd forgo many of the things that make him Coach Fitz: His deep care for players and their families; his push that they be academically elite (NU's 98 percent Graduation Success Rate tied for the FBS high); the extra motivation derived from coaching at his alma mater.
11. And how could he leave now? The Wildcats finally broke through and won the Big Ten West. Hunter Johnson, the five-star quarterback transfer from Clemson, becomes eligible in the fall. Northwestern just unveiled the $270 million Fitz Carlton, which supercharges recruiting and allows players to train, eat and recuperate on campus. Fitzgerald loves his athletic director (Jim Phillips), president (Morton Schapiro) and top donor (Pat Ryan). The program had another donor shell out more than $200,000 so students could go to Indianapolis free of charge. And his family, wife Stacy and their three sons, are entrenched on the North Shore.
12. As Wannstedt once said, famously and infamously, "all the pieces are in place."
13. Wannstedt of the Packers: "It might be the right job but the wrong time. Now is as exciting a time to be at Northwestern as they have had in a long, long time."
14. It is possible to work in Green Bay and have your family remain on the North Shore. It's a three-hour drive. When Jerry Fontenot coached for the Packers, his family lived in Libertyville.
15. Nick Saban (15-17), Chip Kelly (28-35) and Steve Spurrier (12-20) couldn't win in the NFL. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh have succeeded at both levels. Lovie Smith's Bears defense rocked. His Illini defense gave up 63 points three times last season. What does all that mean? The situation often dictates success.
16. The biggest differences between coaching in college versus the pros? As the anonymous coach put it: "It is, by far, recruiting and relating to millennials without being too heavy on them. With all the transfers and potential issues, if you make one kid mad, he and his parents can sully your name and reputation . the professional environment of older men working to survive for their families brings an approach that makes it all about football and ultimately winning."
17. Fitzgerald, he said, might be more suited to the college game because "he is a development guy who cares about the player that's in the uniform. Many (in college) preach it but turn the cheek when it's not helping them win."
18. Wannstedt on NFL players: "You have to be able to motivate and communicate with guys that are making 10 times more than you. You deal with their egos and everything away from football."
19. Fitzgerald would need help putting together an NFL staff. Hard to envision defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who turns 71 on Friday, taking a new gig. And like Hankwitz, McCall has never coached in the pros.
20. That said, Fitzgerald has tons of NFL contacts. He seems to bond with every NFL scout who comes through Evanston.
21. Were Murphy to rehire Fitzgerald, skeptics would say: Man, he doesn't have much of a network. Hiring the same guy twice? And yet if he has such a strong conviction that Fitzgerald is the right guy, he might be willing to sink or swim with him. Murphy is 63, so this could be his final coaching search.