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July 19, 2019

Pat Fitzgerald

Chicago, Illinois

PAT FITZGERALD: Good morning, everybody. You guys awake? I hope my team reacts a little better in a couple weeks.

It's great to be with everyone this morning. I obviously want to, on behalf of our football program and our athletic department and university congratulate Jim Delany on an amazing three-decade run as our amazing commissioner. But most importantly I want to thank his wonderful wife Kitty. Stacy and I kind of came into this role 31 years old, and Kitty is just so supportive of the coaches and ADs' wives. In our experience, it's been absolutely phenomenal. Just really appreciate her sharing her wisdom and helping Stacy, and obviously indirectly helping me because as everybody knows that if your wife is happy, life is good.

Kitty obviously made an amazing impression on Stacy and a great job for all of our wives.

But I also want to thank the Big Ten staff. There's so many that have been with Jim for his long tenure here, from Mark Rudner and everyone all the way through for their amazing leadership and assistance for us as coaches. I appreciate all that they do for us and want to welcome Kevin Warren and his family to the Big Ten. Obviously it'll be a little bit before he gets started, but he's got some big shoes to fill, but he'll make his mark, and his leadership style obviously will be something that will take our conference to the next level. So we're excited to have him and his family join.

Want to also welcome Ryan Day at Ohio State and Mike Locksley at Maryland. Locks and I worked together when I was a GA at Maryland, so we've known each other a long time. I've got a ton of respect for Ryan and the job he's done while he's been at Ohio State, so I know he'll do a terrific job.

Segueing to our team, we are obviously proud to be the defending Big Ten West champs. The run that our young men went on at the end of the season last year was one of the best that we've had in program history. We've gone 15-1 in our last 16 regular season games, and we're 26-9 over our previous four seasons.

On the field we're having great success. We're not where we want to be yet. Getting to Indianapolis was the next natural step for our program, but to win that game is obviously the motivation for all 14 of our teams, but to step into Lucas Oil for the first time was exactly what I had hoped it would be for our guys, and obviously the goal is to eventually win it.

And then another outstanding year academically by our young men. We set team records again with our team GPA and obviously Academic All-Big Ten performances and led the country in graduation rates and graduation success rates at the FBS level. We're winning at the highest level we've ever been, we haven't sacrificed or changed anything academically and the job our guys are doing in the community we're obviously incredibly proud to be a part of that.

As I look forward to the season, we've got a huge challenge right away in the opener. To go on the road, to play a great Stanford team is going to be a daunting task. It's nothing new. Last year I stood up here and we had to go on the road and play at Purdue. It's nothing new for us to have a challenge in the opener, and that will be our focus once we report here in a couple weeks.

But incredibly proud of our guys. They've had an amazing kind of 2018 and now as we move on to the 2019 season, it's to take those lessons, start the process back over, kind of in the midstream of it, I guess, going in here to August and get this thing ready to go. So with that, how about some questions, please.

Q. Do you feel like you guys are already getting a payoff from the new facility in terms of recruiting and player development?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, it's amazing to think that we're going onto year two now in the Walter Athletic Center and Ryan Field and Wilson Field. It's been amazing. Yeah, you look at where our recruiting is going, I think young people want to go to school and get a great education. They want to play for the staff that recruits them, and they want to obviously compete for championships, but they want to be supported, and to have the support that we have right now from a facilities standpoint, as you know, is something that we've never had in our program. So we're very thankful for our amazing donor families, President Shapiro, Jim Phillips, and all of our great trustees to make that happen, and if year one was a Big Ten West championship, I look forward to year two.

Q. You've got a number of position battles, the offensive line is a big one. What can you say about the work Kurt Anderson, the new coach there, has been doing with that group, and how close are you to figuring that out?
PAT FITZGERALD: Excited to have Kurt as our offensive line coach. And equally as excited for Adam Cushing to be the new head coach at Eastern Illinois. What a great opportunity for Adam and his family. He's worked hard. He's been just such a loyal staff member for our program and very thankful for all that Cush has done. And now Kurt brings a new style. One guy is a University of Chicago grad in Cush, and Kurt is kind of more of a Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, the Rock, you go on and on, Triple H. Am I getting all the W -- Fox is going to love me, WWE on Fridays and Fox Big Ten kickoff on Saturdays with us.

But he's an awesome personality. The guys gravitated to him right away, and I just look forward to watching him continue to build that group with his stamp. Cush did an amazing job, and now it's Kurt's turn, and you'll get a chance to meet Jared who's here with us, Jared Thomas, who I think is one of the best players in our league, and he'll eventually be probably on the stage at BTN once he's done playing. J.T. can talk about the style that Kurt brings, and it's going to be a lot of fun.

Any time you have a coaching change there's just a new personality, and maybe that analogy wasn't appropriate, but it's pretty much spot-on.

Q. I have a question about quarterback: Clayton Thorson obviously was a solid and probably underrated quarterback, a four-year starter for you, he brought you a championship. What are you looking for in your next quarterback to highlight both the intangibles and then what he can do on the field to compare favorably with what Clayton Thorson brought?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, I would agree. I think he was really underappreciated maybe outside of -- those that covered our program I think appreciated Clayton. He's just the all-time winningest quarterback in our program history, right, and that's not easy to do. To be a four-year starter, that durability, overcome injuries, what I expect our next starter to be is the best person and best quarterback they can be. This is now multiple quarterback changes that myself and Mick McCall have been a part of.

You can't compare yourself to the last guy. That's not fair to the new quarterback and it's not attainable. Just be the best they can be, lead the squad, take care of the football, and when he steps on the field, everybody that touches our program has to believe that we're going to win because of him. Hopefully we get that identified here as we get rolling in camp.

Q. Sometimes it's hard to be champs but it's harder to defend as champs. As a player on a team who has been in a position to defend a championship, what message, what experiential wisdom do you give your guys coming into this year to handle that task?
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, you know, there's a great -- kind of a great coachism out there, and you guys in Evanston have heard me say this, that the rear view mirror is small and the windshield is big for a reason. If you get caught looking back as you're moving forward, you're going to be on a collision course with failure. You just go back to your process, how you build your team. As always with everybody across the country, 25 percent graduate, your most experienced, probably most successful players, and then 25 percent are new guys that have no idea what they're doing. We get way too much hype about those new guys. I get it, I understand it, but they have no idea what they're doing.

You start that process if they matriculate, if they graduate early and/or if they come to our programs in summer school, and our young group is doing a really good job. But you just start back over with the building blocks, what you value, how you teach fundamentally, and then you get to work.

For us especially, we've got to start faster. We know that. Up until the last couple years we've been a really good team early in the season, and then I got my rear end ripped by everybody that covered us, well, what happens in October. Now it's what's going on in September, and wow, October and November were pretty good. We've just got to become more consistent, and that starts and ends with me. I know that. My hope is that we'll obviously get off to the right start against the Cardinal, but before we get to all that, we've got a lot of work to do here over the next month.

Q. We talk a lot about assistant coaches and coordinators, but I wanted to ask about the value and the relationship you have to have with your strength coach and how important that person is around the calendar, especially in the off-season, to building your culture and how close of a relationship the head coach has to have with his strength coach.
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, it's critically important, and it's not just your head strength coach but it's that full group of five that you have. They're going to spend more time with your players, that and your athletic training staff, than quite frankly you are as the head coach and your assistant coaches. As I look at the structure that we have and how we do things in Evanston, we're all on the same page, and that's a daily challenge from a health, safety and well-being standpoint for our guys, and then obviously to our staff vision, we want to be the best player-development staff that there is in the country. So from nutrition and athletic training, then to Jay Hooten and his staff that we have, and Jay and I have been together for a long time. I probably talk to him more than I talk to my wife Stacy, which is a little awkward and weird at times, but it's critically important.

And that guy has to be trusted by the players. You know, when you really start thinking about putting your staff together, and I look back now 14 years ago, I knew that role was important, but now to be 14 years down the road, it is critically important to your success, and it really comes back to trust and whether or not your guys believe in what that head strength coach and his group of guys are doing, and I believe Jay Hooten and his staff are as good as anybody in the country. I've been documented saying they're our secret sauce for a season. Our players love training with them. They love learning from them. They love getting developed by them. And I think they've got great genuine relationships with our guys, so we can really push them to be the best they can be.

Q. Big Ten has been left out of the last two playoffs. What's wrong?
PAT FITZGERALD: You know, as I think about where we're at right now in college football, I think we have to have some serious discussions. We've benefitted as a conference by not having our conference champion get into the playoff, win the National Championship, and then the last couple years obviously our conference champion has been shut out of the College Football Playoff.

Until we get to a point where everybody that plays Power Five football and our Division I football plays the same amount of conference games and we put the strength of schedule and then obviously the value back on being a conference champion, as the two components that are the most important, I think we're going to continue to have that. Right now it's our league and maybe you look at maybe the PAC that are playing nine league games that their champion is maybe not in the playoff. I think the nine league games are great for our fans, I think it's great for our guys from a competitive standpoint, but to me to have a true champion we have to have the same data points, and until we do that, it's not any different than informs in the BCS, it's just a different name.

Is it an expansion of the playoff? I think it's inevitable. But again, I think for me it's all the details that come along with that. I just want to get our program in position to be in Indianapolis and then get in that conversation.

But to have five Power Five leagues, your Group of Five champions, your independents, to have I think a true champion that's won on the field, we've got to have shared data points.

Q. You mentioned you won the Big Ten West last year, yet this year you're not getting a whole lot of love from the media. I've seen predictions, fourth and fifth in the West and six wins and things like that. I know you don't care about that, but is that something you use as a motivation for your team? Is that something that you're going to bring up with the team?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, absolutely, I'm going to have Matt Foley come talk about that in the first team meeting and really get the guys stoked up (laughter).

Yeah, I mean, it is what it is. You've been covering us for a long time. We're not great clickbait, I guess, so picking us first isn't real sexy. But we'll just earn it. We'll just earn it. That's what's so great about football. The West gets knocked. I enjoy it. That's what I tell our players, enjoy it, and you've got to go out and earn it on the field, and that's what makes our game so great.

We'll just continue to do that and control what we can control, but yeah, it's always fun to read this time of year how we stink. I should actually get better at golf because I don't know why I coach. I should just golf. Haven't experienced August since 1984. So maybe I should start doing that.

Just proud of our guys and our staff. They do a great job, and maybe a better study from one of the students that cover us would be how we've exceeded expectations in the preseason would be a better metric. But you know how I feel: Stats are for losers.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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