Pat Fitzgerald on NU discipline

Purple Wildcats continues its coverage from Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

CHICAGO— Pat Fitzgerald understands that mistakes happen. He laughs–perhaps at reporters like me–who dig for detailed practice notes. Maybe I do miss the point.

Fitzgerald provides one example: Say Kain Colter throws three interceptions in practice. Oddly enough, that's a positive for the head coach, who prides himself on making necessary improvements leading into game week.

"I think that's pretty good," Fitzgerald said of his hypothetical situation. "We probably put a new concept in and obviously he didn't get it. We didn't coach it very well and we need to throw that dang play out."

The coaching staff believes in its players, following a fairly consistent "loyalty" system. One poor week of practice does not speak to a player's lack of talent. As long as the effort remains, Fitzgerald knows everything will be just mint.

After each practice, one reporter usually asks: "How'd it go today?" And the answer varies. Rather than panning his players (Charlie Weis style) or throwing constant praise, Fitzgerald tends to honestly discuss how hard the team worked. Sometimes, they're sloppy or even tired. It happens.

But Fitzgerald and his entire staff evaluate the overall work ethic. It's the recurring theme, and often, you'll see some of the true fighters (Jared Carpenter comes to mind) earn consistent playing time with energy. They figure it out.

"When I get pretty demonstrative on the practice field," Fitzgerald said, "is when I don't see guys giving everything they have to be the best they can be.

"If a guy doesn't give great effort, I take a piece of his hind parts. I don't really care. I'm Irish Catholic. I'll go to Mass on Sunday and I'll repent for my sins."

Well, there's your flashy quote. This rings true to anyone familiar with the program. A commanding leader, Fitzgerald respects his players while holding them accountable. And they respect him back. Ask recruits: They arrive on campus and are blown away with the constant Fitzgerald praise that they hear from players.

It was nice to hear his approach, though, in his own words. The bar is set even higher for 2013. At Northwestern, they'll always remind the players of that. They can repent later.

Stay tuned for more coverage of Big Ten Media Days.

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