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Inside Scoop: Pat Fitzgerald

In 2006, Pat Fitzgerald was named head coach at Northwestern at the ripe age of 31. Since that date, Fitz has turned Northwestern into a model program. He has won more than just football games in his six-plus years at the helm (though he's done plenty of that with a 47-39 record) but also the respect of the college football world, for himself and his program. At a school that went nearly 50 years between bowl games, it's now news when Northwestern doesn't appear in the postseason as this winter the Wildcats will play in their fifth straight bowl. 

His success has come from embracing the university's strengths and turning what some aspects that be might perceived as challenges into selling points for his program. Those in the game consider Fitz one of the ideal head coaches, the type of guy you would ask to create a program from scratch. 

Last week we ran an article questionning whether "He's too young" was a valid criticism of potential head coaches. Watch the video above and hear how he responds to that one and you'll quickly be able to see why so many other coaches think Fitz will go down as one of the great coaches of our generation. 




The Scoop on the North Park University (D-III) opening

Earlier today we learned that North Park University (D-III - Chicago, IL) head coach Scott Pethtel had been let go after serving as head coach of the Vikings for the past seven seasons. Coach P has helped rebuild the foundation of a program that had once really struggled on and off the field, and the next head coach should benefit because of him and his staff's work.

North Park University is located on the north side of Chicago and competes in the very competitive College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin alongside teams like North Central, Illinois Wesleyan, Wheaton, and Elmhurst. The conference is highly regarded as one of the top three toughest small college football conferences in the nation, and almost always receives an at large bid for the D-III playoffs, and can make a case for another at large bid for their third place team more times than not.

The campus setting is very nice, and while it is surruonded by city streets, you hardly notice it while walking through campus, making it easy to forget that your in one of the nation's largest cities. With that said, recruits and student athletes get a unique experience of having one of the most vibrant cities  in the U.S. at their fingertips, while still getting a true small college feel. Very rare.

The field and indoor training facility are named after Mike Holmgren and his family, who have made substantial donations to help the athletic facilities at North Park. Several of Holmgren's children and in-laws graduated from the University. We understand that coach Holmgren often makes the occasion trip to Chicago and swings by campus to address the team or visit with coaches. That's one booster most head coaches and athletic directors would love to have by their side. 

Administrative support is excellent, everyone on campus, from the Vice President to the people in admissions are all very approachable and supportive of the football program. 

While the program hasn't had a conference victory since 2000, Pethtel's staff's did an an admirable job of closing the competitive gap by recruiting the right type student-athlete that will stick with the program and develop over a four year period. The job would be great for an established recruiter who can recruit the Chicagoland area, which is very populated with quality D-III programs. Chicago is an area that many other programs in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa are really starting to saturate looking for quality student athletes to build their program with, and there is no shortage of them in the city and suburbs.

With everything else seemingly in place, this would be a tremendous opportunity for the right hire.




Georgia alters practice routine to prepare for the triple option

After wrapping up the SEC East crown on Saturday, Georgia will take a challenging two-game detour outside of conference play before playing for the league championship on December 1. 

The Bulldogs will play back-to-back home games against triple option mavens Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech beginning this Saturday. At a hair over 400 yards per game (and 6.68 yards per carry), Georgia Southern runs for more yards per game than any team in college football across all levels. No other college football team averages more than 385 yards.

Paul Johnson's isn't too far behind their in-state counterparts, ranking fourth in FBS at 324.4 yards per game and 5.86 yards per carry.  

While Mark Richt's team will be heavily favored to win both games, Todd Grantham's defense has it work cut out for it, so Georgia decided to cut out its normal practice week routine. The Bulldogs practiced in full pads on Monday and allowed the scout team offense to use cut blocks against the starting defense.

“It’s very, very, very difficult to simulate in practice,” Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald. “You can’t do it. … As you’re trying to adjust to not only what they’re doing schematically, you’re also adjusting to how well they do it. Their execution, their speed, their quick decision-making and all that type of thing that can become very, very frustrating.”

Georgia Southern has the ability to frustrate even the best defenses in college football. Recall the Eagles' trip last season to Tuscaloosa, when the eventual national champions (who led FBS by allowing just 72.1 rushing yards and 8.1 points per game) allowed a season-worst 301 rushing yards and 21 points.

Grantham was non-committal when asked of the benefits to playing two triple offenses in a row.

“I guess in some ways,” Grantham said. “I mean, I don’t know. Whatever. I didn't set the schedule, so I’ll do whatever they say.”

Grantham has faced Georgia Tech's triple option twice in his tenure at Georgia. The 2010 meeting saw the Yellow Jackets compile 512 yards of offense in a 42-34 Bulldogs win. Last season, Georgia limited Georgia Tech to 355 yards in a 31-17 victory. 




Jim Harbaugh: Motivational speeches are overrated

A handful of Bay Area high school coaches got the opportunity to sit down behind closed doors with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh last night for a "Gameday Speech Clinic" where the head coach touched on everything from leadership, to teaching, to relationship building.

The coaches in attendance got a lot of quality material from the experience, according to MaxPreps.com.

Sequoia HS (CA) coach Rob Poulos noted that Harbaugh was very down to earth and addressed the group of coaches as colleagues while offering some some quality insight.

"I liked him right off because he peeled away the BS real fast and the motivational issues. He got right to the heart of the matter – your relationship with the players. He wasn't selling a bill of goods. We found out there was a lot more similarities than differences between his level and ours."

Harbaugh also told the coaches in attendance that he's not real big on motivational speeches.

"If those things really could make a difference, you'd see motivational speakers as coaches. I'm an information guy. That's what I think all good coaches are about." Harbaugh explained.

Leigh HS (CA) head coach Kyle Padia, a former quarterback at Northern Illinois, took one idea from the mini clinic that he plans to go back to share with his assistant coaches.

"He talked about trusting your coaches and putting your ego aside. The best idea doesn't necessarily have to come from the head coach. It's all about taking that plan and carrying it out."

Padia also noted one nugget that stuck with him about Harbaugh and those motivational speeches. "He's a big proponent of preparation and practice and not necessarily needing a big speech on game day. He said pregame speeches all are forgotten by the time you get out the field and warm-up anyway."

There you have it. A solid, and proven approach to building a program.

Forget the motivational material and focus on what really matters (although everyone does enjoy a good motivational highlight video to get the blood pumping). Harbaugh and his staff revitalized the Stanford program, and immediately helped to breathe new life into the 49ers organization, by doing what coaching is really all about; quality teaching and instruction, providing players with the information that they need to be successful, and building meaningful relationships.

Leave the motivational speeches to the professional speakers.




Purdue WR coach Patrick Higgins fills in admirably for injured offensive coordinator

It was announced last Friday, due to a back injury suffered during the week, Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord would not be able to coach his team's game with Iowa the following day. 

Wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins was tabbed to call plays in Nord's stead. Having served as UTEP's offensive coordinator from 2000-03, Higgins was the natural choice as the only remaining coach with play calling experience.

“I had done it before, and that was a big plus,” Higgins told the Lafayette Journal & Courier. “It’s like riding a bike; you try to get back on.”

The Boilermakers had a productive day offensively, throwing 35 times for 279 yards (8.0 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and no interceptions and rushing 44 times for 211 yards (4.8 ypc) and a score in a 27-24 win. In fact, Purdue's 490 yards were the most it has achieved in Big Ten play. 

“We were able to get first downs,” Higgins said. “That was the main thing we emphasized before the game and during the game — get a first down. Anytime Iowa had some success, we were able to come back the next series and get a couple of first downs.”

Although the staff looks forward to Nord's return, the door is still open for Higgins to remain in his play calling role if Nord is not cleared for the Boilermakers' game at Illinois on Saturday. Saturday was the first game or practice Nord had missed in more than three decades of coaching. 

“It’s tough when you put all that time into it,” head coach Danny Hope said. “It’s like a player. The player is out and can’t be part of it. Coach Nord is out and couldn't be part of it. Tough thing for him emotionally but he was excited about the win.”




Well done high school motivational video

Well done high school video here from A.L. Brown high school in Kannapolis, North Carolina, who have put together an impressive couple of games to stay alive in the state playoffs.

In the first round of the playoffs A.L. Brown high school put together one of the most impressive comebacks in school history to beat North Forsyth. The team scored three touchdowns in the final three minutes of the game to force overtime, where they ended up capitalizing on the momentum that they had gained to earn a win and a spot in the second round of the playoffs.

That win forced a rematch with a Hickory Ridge team that beat them 63-42 earlier in the season. The highlight video is what the team watched before taking the field and winning in an epic 69-55 shootout where the two teams combined for over 1,400 yards of total offense.

The video includes some footage of their loss earlier in the year to Hickory Ridge, as well as their big come from behind win against North Forsyth in that first round playoff game.

Just before the season started, a player unexpectedly passed away, and head coach Mike Newsome, along with the staff and the team, decided to dedicate their season to him (as you can see at the end of the clip). Some pretty good motivational material in here.

 




Tim Beck: "Some games, you might as well not practice"

Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck is calling the shots for one of the most potent offenses in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers rank second in scoring offense (37 ppg), and lead the league in total offense (482 ypg), rushing offense (269 ypg), pass efficiency (146.88), and long scrimmage plays of 20+ yards (62). Over the past few weeks, they've played their best football against some of the top units in the conference.

Beck obviously has no shortage of weapons to work with, and the staff has done a great job of maximizing the talent that they have in Lincoln. Backup running back Ameer Abdullah has stepped in nicely and ranks in the top six in the conference in rushing, while quarterback Taylor Martinez (who many criticized for accuracy and throwing mechanic issues last season) leads the conference in passing efficiency, and receiver Kenny Bell ranks fourth in the league in receiving yardage. Figuring out how defenses are going to scheme against such a balanced attack, with playmakers at every position has been a challenge on game day, forcing the offensive staff to make a ton of adjustments on the fly.

“It's so hard to explain. To figure out how teams play Ameer Abdullah, Jamal Turner, Taylor Martinez, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed. How do they play them?" Beck told the World-Herald Bureau. "Nobody has the kinds of weapons we do offensively. You watch film on somebody and figure 'oh, that's what they're going to do.' They don't do that against us. Because you can't."

Sounds like a problem that a lot of offensive coordinators would love to have.

“Some games, you might as well not even practice.” Beck added, noting all of the in game adjustments that are needed to adjust to the opponent's defensive scheme.

One of the strategies that Beck and the offensive staff have used is what Ameer Abdullah calls the "stretch and puncture" where playcalls get the linebackers moving laterally, and then Beck calls something that challenges them vertically.

Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) will wrap the regular season up at home against Minnesota and then on the road at Iowa. They've put themselves in position for a quality bowl game, where they'll once again find themselves with plenty of time and practice to think about how defenses will scheme against their offensive weapons.

 

 




Tuesday TV - MACtion doubleheader tomorrow

No games on tonight, but we'll get to enjoy two big MAC games tomorrow night (Ohio at Ball State and Toledo at Northern Illinois) that will help decide the conference champions.

Eastern time listed.

NFL:

No games

College:

No games

High School:

No games