GREEN BAY – Despite Pat Fitzgerald's public comments that he’s staying at Northwestern, the Green Bay Packers are still hopeful they can speak with the Wildcats coach this week.
Convincing him to leave his alma mater, however, will be tough.
Fitzgerald was on top of the world after his 22nd-ranked Wildcats erased a 20-3 halftime deficit in beating 17th-ranked Utah 31-20 in the Holiday Bowl on Monday night.
It was a crowning achievement for him this season after leading the Northwestern to an 8-1 conference record and an appearance in the Big Ten championship game as the West Division winner.
After the game, a jubilant Fitzgerald said he wasn’t leaving Northwestern despite reports he was going to interview with the Packers for their vacant head-coaching position.
"Hashtag Go Cats, man," Fitzgerald said to a Fox Sports sideline reporter after the game. "I'm not going anywhere. This is home forever."
Given Fitzgerald grew up in the Chicago area, was a star linebacker for the Wildcats and signed a 10-year extension two years ago that reportedly paid him $3.62 million this season, he truly might not be going anywhere for a while.
The construction of a new $280 million football facility and the breakthrough 2018 season should make recruiting top players easier for Fitzgerald. Given he is only 44, it’s likely other NFL opportunities will come his way, although, as a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, it doesn’t appear that job will open anytime soon given the success the Bears are having under Matt Nagy.
If president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst are truly interested in hiring Fitzgerald, they are probably going to have to wow him with their contract offer and convince him that this would be the best NFL job he could get.
The fact Fitzgerald wouldn’t be too far from home would play in their favor as would the fact he has been at Northwestern for 13 years and might be looking for his next challenge. Murphy hired Fitzgerald when he was athletic director at Northwestern and Gutekunst has admired him greatly, according to sources.
Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, according to a source, was making between $8 million to $9 million this past season and Murphy might be forced to match that on a long-term deal to entice Fitzgerald to leave.
It’s possible Murphy and Fitzgerald will talk as soon as Wednesday to gauge whether there’s interest to move forward with an interview. Both sides might agree the timing isn’t right.
It would seem unlikely Fitzgerald would interview if he weren’t considered a front-runner. The Packers have interviews set up with multiple NFL assistants and Fitzgerald probably isn’t going to sit around very long waiting for them to finish.
Fitzgerald would have to come up with some assistant coaches he was certain he could bring with him to Green Bay. One assistant to keep an eye on would be Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, who played for Fitzgerald, served as a graduate assistant for him and has been under the tutelage of Chiefs coach Andy Reid the last two seasons.
Since Monday, the Packers have requested to speak to:
» Josh McDaniels, New England offensive coordinator
» Brian Flores, New England linebackers coach (defensive play caller)
» Dan Campbell, New Orleans assistant head coach/tight ends
» Mike Munchak, Pittsburgh offensive line coach
» Matt LaFleur, Tennessee offensive coordinator
They have already interviewed former head coaches Jim Caldwell (Indianapolis, Detroit) and Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis).
PackersNews.com confirmed the Packers will fly to New Orleans on Saturday to speak to Campbell after meeting with McDaniels in New England on Friday, per the NFL Network.
Of the group of targets, only Flores and LaFleur have not been head coaches in the league.
LaFleur just concluded his first year as the Titans' offensive coordinator after spending 2017 as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator in Los Angeles. Tennessee finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs, ending the year No. 25 in total offense and No. 27 in scoring. They were 29th in passing with quarterback Marcus Mariota but seventh in the league in rushing.
In 2017 in L.A., the Rams finished eighth in the league in rushing to go with the No. 10 passing attack in football.
The 39-year-old Michigan native worked in Atlanta under Kyle Shanahan, now the San Francisco 49ers head coach, as the Falcons' quarterbacks coach. Matt Ryan won the Most Valuable Player award in 2016 and advanced to the Super Bowl.
LaFleur broke into the league in 2008 with Shanahan in Houston. He then followed Shanahan to Washington before moving on to Atlanta.
A college wide receiver and quarterback, LaFleur played professionally briefly in the National Indoor Football League. He then got into coaching at the college level in 2003.
In 2014 he served as Brian Kelly’s quarterbacks coach at the University of Notre Dame, when Packers backup quarterback DeShone Kizer was a freshman.
Other than LaFleur, the race is now on for Murphy. Every one of the candidates has at least one other team interested in them:
» McDaniels: Cincinnati.
» Flores: Miami, Denver, Cleveland.
» Munchak: Denver, Cleveland, Miami.
» Campbell: Cleveland, Arizona.
» Caldwell: Cleveland, New York Jets.
» Pagano: Denver.
If the Packers want to add requests for coaches participating in this week’s wild-card games, they will have some time as those coaches are not eligible to be interviewed until next week at the earliest.