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Would Pat Fitzgerald Leave Northwestern to Be the Jets' Next Head Coach?

Just because the Jets are reportedly interested in Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald doesn't mean the feeling will be mutual with the head coach of the Wildcats.

Rumors have been swirling this week regarding New York wanting to bring in Fitzgerald to replace head coach Adam Gase next season. Whether or not those reports are true, it certainly makes sense that the Jets would at least inquire with Fitzgerald about a vacancy in New York and have him on their short list of possible head coaching replacements.

Fitzgerald has a 104-79 record over 15 years as the Wildcats' head coach. The 45-year-old has transformed his alma mater—where he played linebacker from 1994-1996—into a perennial contender in the Big Ten West. 

This season under Fitzgerald, Northwestern is off to a 5-0 start. Fresh off their win against Wisconsin last weekend, the No. 8 ranked Wildcats have an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. 

The Jets wouldn't be the first NFL team to target Fitzgerald (and they certainly won't be the last). He's been on the radar of several different franchises over much of the last decade, including the Green Bay Packers just a few years ago. 

That's why Sports Illustrated's NFL insider Albert Breer said in a mailbag on Friday that it "wouldn't surprise [him] for a second" if the Jets go after Fitzgerald this offseason.

That said, and as Breer explains, it's not as easy as an NFL team wanting Fitzgerald. Here's more from the insider's mailbag:

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t just take a team wanting a guy like Fitzgerald. It takes a guy like Fitzgerald wanting that team back, too. And just about every indication I’ve gotten over the years is that Fitzgerald is going to be incredibly picky about taking a shot at the NFL. Which means you’ll have to have a very attractive situation to lure him. Maybe Trevor Lawrence and a treasure trove of picks does it. But the Jets’ past won’t help.

And while we’re there, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again—Fitzgerald is smart to be selective, like Stanford’s David Shaw is smart to be selective. Both guys are living in areas of the country they have deep roots in, working at their alma maters, and making good money in programs, where winning nine games a year earns a statue on campus, not a pink slip.

So if you have all that, why would you leave? In Fitzgerald’s case, I’ve heard, at least short term, that the Bears would probably be the only team he’d consider. Remember, two years ago, he turned away interest from the Packers and president Mark Murphy, the former Northwestern AD who took a chance in making Fitzgerald the head coach there at 31 years old. Which is to say, if he’s gonna turn that one down, he’s not leaving to go just anywhere.

I’ve also heard his kids are a factor—his three sons are aged 11-16—and he may want to stay where he’s at to see them through school. If he feels that way then, as anyone who has kids knows, that is totally understandable. And underscores the facts here, which are that Fitzgerald’s probably not going anywhere (which shouldn’t dissuade any NFL team from trying).

For what it's worth, as someone that covered Fitzgerald when I was a student at Northwestern, I can't see him leaving for a gig with the Jets either. 

Like Breer said, perhaps starting fresh with the top pick in next spring's draft, draft capital for years to come and a chance to build quickly around someone as talented as Lawrence could tip the scales. 

That may not outweigh what he's building in Evanston, though. If Fitz turned down a shot at the Packers head coaching job, logistically closer to Chicago with a familiar face in Mark Murphy, picking up and leaving for the Jets seems even less likely.

I remember being at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego two years ago. Fitzgerald was asked in a press conference before the game about the rumors that he was being considered to coach the Packers. He took the conversation back to the Wildcats and how focused he is on his program about as quick as his team roared back from a 20-3 deficit later that night against Utah.

"Hashtag Go 'Cats, man," he said in an interview after the game. "I'm not going anywhere. This is home forever."

Besides, if it isn't already, Northwestern is shaping up to be quite the alluring destination for recruits for years to come (from consistent bowl game contention to state-of-the-art facilities). I truly believe Fitzgerald is a Northwestern lifer and won't leave unless the situation is perfect for him and his family.

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