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July 25, 2013CHICAGO-Money, sex appeal, winning bowl games and the SEC were among the many topics Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald discussed during Thursday morning's round table session with reporters at Big Ten Media Days.
"The stipend at our place is already a heck of a lot more than other schools because of the cost of living adjustment. I use that like you wouldn't believe in recruiting. "The bigger issues and discussions have to be with what we do with non-revenue sports. How is it equal, how is it the same opportunity? If you are only going to do it for the revenue sports, I'm not sure how that makes sense. Our volleyball players, softball team and on and on work just as hard as our guys work. They sacrifice as much as our guys sacrifice. I hate to see a tier system set up. I don't think it would be fair to the other athletes and not sure it would be fair to our guys.
"I'd like to be part of those discussions, listen to the thought process from a coaching representation standpoint. I don't have a lot of time to do a lot of surveys, just do what is right for the kids. It's not complicated."
"There are a lot of great athletes and coaches in the SEC, but I think a lot of things get blown out of proportion over one or two weeks (on the schedule). The fanfare of recruiting gets a little overblown.
"Michigan State was two-three plays away from having a really special year. From top to bottom we are one of the more powerful conferences in the country; we are not driven by two or three power teams at the top. Our statement as a league is our strength from top to bottom, not just one or two.
"But if you want to change perception and the way people talk about you, you have to do it on the field. We know a little bit about that at Northwestern. We're never going to win signing day. We're never going to win sex appeal because our fan base isn't clicking enough on dot.com sites, our guys actually have jobs and they're working during the day. You can't worry about the stuff you can't control.
"Going to the playoffs next year, I think sex appeal no longer figures into playing for the national championship. You have to earn it on the playing field. Hopefully, strength of schedule will be a big factor in getting a seat at the table.
"I'm not sure I will ever control the sex appeal of Northwestern football. Everyone over the age of 40 has an opinion and I can't control that. Anyone under the age of 40 only knows us as a winner, so that change will take time. A lot of the polls are sex appeal. Preseason polls are sex appeal.''
"I watched the first half of the game last year with coach (Gary) Barnett and that was pure unadulterated old school football - execution in blocking, getting off blocks, execute in the kicking game and don't beat yourself. That's our blueprint and it probably isn't much different than a lot of other schools, but the reason why they (SEC) have had the run they've had is their young men have executed, which means the coach has done a terrific job of getting them prepared fundamentally. Last year's national championship game was football in its purest form being executed at a very high level.
"What has been fun for me is seeing those guys who have been here before me putting on the purple and white. There were some really tough times '72 through '94 and to have the amount of dialogue with that group of men has been really special. We had to overcome some of those things and work really hard as a program to re-recruit guys whose experiences weren't like those we are experiencing today. We don't lose sight of those who have been here before us, so the pride from that group of men has been the most fun. There has been an attitude shift from this group of former players and they understand they were part of the building blocks.
"On the recruiting side, the momentum has been unbelievable. Beating the SEC twice last year, winning a bowl game in SEC country, playing the way we have on the Big Ten Network and ESPN were big. The big four in our league always have had national exposure. For the Northwesterns of the world, since the Big Ten Network came along, 17-year-old kids now know Northwestern isn't in Seattle, like one young man in Houston thought when I first started recruiting. We're now a brand that goes across the country.
"The Stanfords and Notre Dames of the academic world have had that cache for a number of years. We're coming, but we're not there yet. We're just getting started. We're in the first lap of that race right now, but we've got miles to go to be where we want to be."
"I'm not a big fan of preseason rankings. Our team is totally different from year to year. To say because we won the Gator Bowl we are not this, that or the other. I don't buy that.
"There's so much that goes into that offseason development - who steps up as new leaders and who fills the holes that have been created, the injuries in the offseason, the new chemistry and how it overcomes adversity and sustains success, not becoming complacent. I don't know how you can forecast that without going through practices and fall camps.
"If the only weekend that counts is bowl weekend, then it's a fair statement to say the SEC has separated itself from the rest. We've gone toe to toe and are not afraid to play that league. We had another game scheduled to play against that league this year and that team decided not to play us. I have a lot of respect for that league.
"A lot of it (rankings) has to do with sex appeal and the 24-hour news cycle. A lot of those schools are the only show in town, let alone the only show in that state. Big Ten country is a little bit different. I think a lot of the (SEC) propaganda is a lot of hot air. Let's roll the ball out and play. As a coach, you really don't pay a lot of attention to rankings."
"When adversity strikes, we have to be able to handle it. Adversity comes in a number of ways - guys getting hurt, losing a game. It's easier handling that (losing) than when you have success because it's human nature for guys tend to get complacent with success. We continually challenge our guys to get better than they think they are.''
"We don't have a lot of guys with fragile egos in our building. We've got guys through the recruiting process who embrace what this game is all about. Every freshman has a fragile ego just in general because the glorification of a 15-year-old kid is now at an all-time high. It's not fair to those kids, but you have to teach them what it means to fail. These kids have been jetted across the country and people have been telling them how good they are; that's not very good for their ego. They're going to get to college and they're going to get their lips knocked off. They're going to fail and they're not going to know how to deal with that.
"We're spending more time coaching the kids through that than we ever had before. They get to college during the summer and a strength coach is sticking their boot up their hiney, and they've never had that happen before.
"I'm brutally honest with our prospects. I don't sit in their living room anymore; they sit in my office.
"I'm not sure it's good to offer a scholarship before the senior year because the senior year is very important. I have 13 players who haven't played their senior year that I've told, 'you don't play for us, you play for your coach, but if I find out in any shape or form you're not busting your ass and giving it your all to be a great leader and a great teammate, you and I are not going to be on very good terms, so understand what commitment means and also understand your No. 1 commitment is to your grades, who you are socially and the kind of teammate you are.
"When a guy comes into my office, it's not I love you. The minute I start doing that I'm out of here. I'm not doing that.
"If they don't bust their ass, the scholarship isn't off the table, but I'm going to find a way to make their life uncomfortable. I'll do everything I can with their parents to make sure their attitude and actions are acceptable.
"I've talked to several of my colleagues and they've told me how once some of these guys accept a scholarship in their junior year, they suddenly start forgetting to do the little things like running through a line. We as a coaching body through the NCAA have to get a grasp on this and shift the needle back to what is important and that is what the kids do in (high) school, being great teammates and continuing to develop. Kids are going to have to develop more in high school than they have ever before because the NCAA is going to start taking practice hours away from us.''