Losing becomes the norm for Northwestern

After another loss, it's time for a different message.

Pat Fitzgerald had the gall to enter his press conference and deliver the following quote. It’s stunning: “To be 8-1 in the opener, I’m not gonna sit here and jump off Ryan Field’s tower. I’m sure I have plenty of critics. I wore white today; I’m sure people wanted me to wear purple. I’m over it.”

First, it was a great opportunity for Fitz to plug himself. Those wins came against Northeastern, Towson, Miami (OH), Syracuse (x2), Vanderbilt, Boston College and Cal. Only one of those teams made a bowl game. Vandy and BC were at their all-time lows in those respective seasons. But, right, it’s okay for Fitz to bomb this opener because he was good in them leading up to now.

Second, it seems awfully scripted. This was no reactionary quote. This sounds like someone entirely focused on his “critics” and on defending himself. Perhaps people could criticize him for one of the most embarrassing losses of his career. But, to him, they’d be wrong.

Third, does this sound like a coach who lost to a team that finished 1-11 last season—with the lone win against Portland State? It seems as though Fitz pretended that he lost to LSU in the opener, and not an uneven, rebuilding team that should lose nine games after this one.

In fact, it was so embarrassing that the Cal players acted as though they’d won the Rose Bowl. Good for them. They overcame the 2,132-mile trip and beat its cocky opponent that blamed much of its 5-7 season on injuries. Oh, and they outworked and outplayed them. Does yesterday’s terrible game look more like 5-7 or 10-3?

But Fitz still lives in his 2012 dream world, when the Wildcats were among the top 20 teams in the country. They were. Kain Colter and Venric Mark were their stars. They had top-notch defensive leadership. And without them, everything crumbled. This team is kind of in free fall.

From 10-3 to 5-7 to the loss against Cal… with the All-American leaving the program and then a divisive union. And about that union: The commentators were talking about it because they had nothing else to say.

How hard could they beat up on Trevor Siemian, who overthrew, underthrew or botched six or seven passes that could have made the difference? How hard could they rag on the complete lack of offensive identity that led to no chemistry between Siemian and his lost receivers?

How hard could they crush a team that faced one basic wrinkle (the two-quarterback system with Jared Goff and Luke Rubenzer) and looked lost in approaching it? Teddy Greenstein makes an excellent point: They WERE a two-quarterback team in past years. Now, they made the true freshman Rubenzer looked like an elusive genius.

But don’t forget about the excuses: Instead of questioning his (lack of) preparation and adjustments, Fitzgerald credited the Cal media for keeping it quiet and then deadpanned that we could learn a thing or two from that. Everyone is wrong but him.

Greenstein also wondered if Fitz regretted not using first-stringers in a Kenosha scrimmage. And, of course, Fitz cited an example from 2004 to justify what we don’t understand: At the end of the day, he thinks he was right.

If this Cal team were named Toledo or something, this might seem worse. The Golden Bears have a name with reputation and some excellent pieces, but they’re the young team that beat a group of veterans. It was supposed to be the other way around.

This loss is still consensus “horrible.” Every single media member with some speck of football knowledge (I’m in the “speck” category) knows that this was horrible. Few are justifying the loss; they’re just intent on believing that this was an outlier.

And this might be an outlier. The point is not to crush the future of this season. With some adjustments, and with an incredibly soft conference schedule, they might be fine. This isn’t going to be a 3-9 team.

What I am saying is that it’s ridiculous that NU treats losing so lightly in public. This has become the norm, with eight of the past nine games ending as losses. The 5-7 season was dismissed as a fluke and “heel injury” (come on), and then followed with a terrible loss the following opener. We can also explain away the “close games,” because Fitz could have won 7 or 8 games with the right turns, but they didn’t. Right now, they are not very good.

Pat Fitzgerald has 12 Saturdays each year to build his reputation and his program. He’s recruited well, especially in his three most recent classes. He’s going to be the coach of this team for a very long time and can implement his vision.

But, right now, it’s more apparent than ever that this NU team needs fixing. Yesterday, Fitzgerald was complacent about his fading team losing again. Northwestern is currently not okay, and it’s like everyone sees it but him.

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