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February 6, 2013

Another boring signing day for Fitz, NU

CHICAGO-During his press conference at Mike Ditka's Restaurant, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked by WGN's Dave Eanet if this was the most stress-free signing day of his career.

After all, 17 of the Wildcats' 19-member class committed before the season and there has been virtually no movement since the beginning of December, when the last prospects made their verbal pledges.

"You know, Mr. Cat," Fitzgerald said to his Pat Fitzgerald Show co-host, "I think most of these are pretty stress-free for me."

Northwestern's signing day was another yawner for Fitzgerald. The Wildcats were expecting 19 letters of intent, and they were all received by 9:42 a.m. Central time. The biggest excitement may have been when Kyle Queiro decided to -- gasp! -- email his signed LOI to NU rather than fax it to the Nicolet Center.

While other coaching staffs waited with baited breath and hoped that a prospect reached across a table and picked up their school's hat, Northwestern's went on with all the spontaneity -- and precision -- of a tax seminar.

There were no surprises, no last-minute changes of heart and no instances of a recruit's mother stealing his LOI and hiding it because she disagreed with where her son wanted to go to college (see Arkansas commit Alex Collins).

And that's just the way Fitzgerald likes it.

Fitzgerald uses a marriage analogy to describe his recruiting philosophy, and he makes it sound like it's every bit as serious the commitment spouses make to each other in a marriage -- one not involving Kim Kardashian, anyway.

When Northwestern coaches are recruiting a prospect, they are, essentially dating, explains Fitzgerald. They can "date" other schools to see what they have to offer during this period.

Then, "at a certain point, we're going to ask them to get engaged," said Fitzgerald. The wedding day is national signing day, when the player signs an LOI that is not unlike a marriage contract of sorts.

That engagement, to Fitzgerald, is binding. There will be no more dating. He takes any breach of that vow as seriously as a fiancée would a cheating husband.

And hell hath no fury like a coach scorned.

"Once you break that engagement, there's no more wedding," he said simply.

Former commitment Raymond Davison found that out last month. He decided he wanted to take an official visit to Cal after the Bears named Sonny Dykes their head coach. In other words, he wanted to date again.

Fitzgerald said that's fine -- but the wedding is off. He pulled Davison's scholarship, and Davison wound up committing to Cal.

In an indication of how well Northwestern communicates its philosophy to recruits, Davison told WildcatReport that he knew full well that Fitzgerald would pull the offer when he decided to take the visit, and that he had no hard feelings whatsoever toward the NU program.

"We made [our philosophy] clear to families, made it clear to coaches," said Fitzgerald. "The expectation we have in this process is transparent and there are great lines of communications from our coaches to the families."

That's why Northwestern's signing days have as much drama as his weekly coach's show.

"[Our philosophy] is why you don't see a lot of decommitments, why you don't see a lot of 'wow, we flipped this kid last night from a commitment somewhere else,'" Fitzgerald said.

"It's a different way we run our program. It's the way we do things as a coaching staff."

To Fitzgerald, boring signing days are not only a tradition, they are a sign of success.

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