Big Ten

Reports: New contract extensions for Chris Collins, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern

Reports: New contract extensions for Chris Collins, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern

It's not difficult to argue that Northwestern's highest-profile programs are in the best shape they've ever been in.

So it should come with little surprise that both head basketball coach Chris Collins and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald are reportedly receiving new contract extensions. Big ones.

A pair of separate ESPN reports Monday evening describe that the Cats' coaches have agreed to extensions that will keep them in Evanston for quite some time.

According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, Collins and Northwestern have agreed to what Goodman describes as a "lengthy" contract extension, one impressive enough that the reporter suggests only an "elite" head-coaching job could pry Collins away from the Wildcats.

"Northwestern's Chris Collins has agreed to a lengthy contract extension, source told ESPN," Goodman reported Monday afternoon. "Would likely take an elite college or NBA job for him to leave Evanston."

The Tribune's Teddy Greenstein added that Collins' contract will run through the 2024-25 season.

Then there's the tweet from ESPN's Brett McMurphy, reporting that Fitzgerald will be sticking with the Cats for the next decade.

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg added that Fitzgerald's contract will run through the 2026 season.

In basketball, a contract bump is no shock considering Collins just accomplished what no one before him ever did in getting Northwestern to the NCAA tournament. The Cats recorded a program-record 24 wins, scored big wins at Wisconsin and at home against Michigan, reached the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament and defeated Vanderbilt for the school's first-ever NCAA tournament victory.

Collins' work in his four seasons has been nothing short of remarkable, taking a perennial Big Ten basement-dweller of a program, bringing in the highest-rated recruits the school has ever seen and turning the Cats into a winning program in the league.

And that ascension could very well reach more new highs next season. Four of the team's five starters from this past season are returning — senior guard Bryant McIntosh, senior guard Scottie Lindsey, junior forward Vic Law and junior center Dererk Pardon — plus the team gets back an injured starter from the 2015-16 campaign in sharpshooter Aaron Falzon, not to mention several returning reserves.

On the gridiron, Fitzgerald has enjoyed perhaps more success than any Northwestern head football coach ever has, the head man for two of the four 10-win seasons in school history. In his 11 seasons, he's won 77 games and taken the Cats to seven bowl games, winning two of the last three of those postseason appearances, two of the three bowl wins Northwestern has ever had.

And just like Collins, Fitzgerald could be on the cusp of one of his most successful seasons. Running back Justin Jackson returns for his senior season this fall after leading the Big Ten in rushing last year, and junior-to-be Clayton Thorson looked much improved in his second season. The Cats are riding high this offseason after scoring a big 31-24 win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl and could be one of the top teams in the Big Ten West in 2017.

Both programs are also getting brand-new facilities, with football getting a sparkling new facility on the lakefront and basketball getting a completely renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena.

These are big times for Northwestern athletics.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.

 

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