The Wildcats failed to reach their expectations, and that's putting it lightly. NU salvaged a 5-7 record by beating Illinois on Saturday — still missing bowl eligibility for the first time in six years.
So in his relentlessly upbeat way, Fitzgerald communicated his frustration. This was not the proper sendoff for a strong senior class that included Kain Colter, Tyler Scott, Damien Proby and Rashad Lawrence.
"Let's go back to the Cal game," Fitzgerald said, "when I told you guys our expectations internally were set a lot higher than any expectations set externally. I still feel that way and I won't ever waver from that thought process."
There were tense moments, missed opportunities, and (frankly) some underachievers from this NU football season. Saturday found Fitz finding the right balance in terms of blaming his team and his team's luck.
He spoke about the learning experience, something that should motivate NU all offseason as it attempts to recover from the disappointing campaign.
"… When I got my tail whipped for the first time playing football, I didn't need a coach to tell me anything anymore," he said. "It's called personal pride, and you're going to stay in the weight room a little longer. You're going to stay in the film room a little longer."
Still, there are the lingering what-ifs. Colter, Venric Mark, Sean McEvilly, Daniel Jones and other key players missed significant time due to injury — leaving the ‘Cats undermanned for much of the season.
It's a mix of that and poor execution; it's not an excuse but it complicates things. This season was not supposed to end in something like this, with Illinois the finale and no bowl practices.
"… If the ball bounced the way it did a year ago, and we stayed healthy the way we did a year ago, then we're talking about a different destination for next week, but we're not.
"And so, with that being said, we've got a ton of work to do."