The first thing that stuck out when watching Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald introduce his offensive and defensive coordinators at a news conference on Friday in Evanston was the vast age difference between the boss and his newest employees. Fitzgerald, clean-shaven and brush-cutted, looked like a son introducing his white-haired father and salt-and-pepper haired uncle to the media.
Fitzgerald, still the youngest coach in America at 33, has been a head coach for two years and a college coach for just nine, and here he was unveiling a pair of coaches with 71 years on the sidelines between them. While Fitzgerald talked about looking for "the right fit" in his new coaching hires regardless of their years in the business, it was clear from just looking at the men to his left and right that Fitzgerald was looking for experience.
And he got it.
Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, 60, began his coaching career in 1970, four years before Fitzgerald was born. He has been coaching for 38 years, the last 26 as a defensive coordinator at BCS-conference schools.
Offensive coordinator Mick McCall, 50, got started in 1975, when Fitzgerald was still in diapers. He has worn the whistle for 33 years, including 10 as a high school head coach. But he has only been an offensive coordinator for one season, his last one at Bowling Green.
McCall's hiring was announced with three other changes in job titles on NU's offensive staff. Wide receivers coach Kevin Johns is now the Wildcats' passing game coordinator, while offensive line coach Bret Ingalls is the running game coordinator. Superbacks coach Adam Cushing will now be NU's recruiting coordinator, the position previously held by Johns.
But Fitzgerald said during Friday's news conference that McCall will call the plays for the offense and the job titles would "more define what they've (Johns and Ingalls) done for us in the past."
McCall said that Northwestern, in fact, wouldn't be doing too much differently on the offensive side of the ball under his leadership. Bowling Green ran a very similar spread attack during his five years there, so not much will change from what previous coordinator Garrick McGee ran in Evanston.
The Wildcats' spread offense, he said, will still look to force the defense to cover the entire field, and "throw it and run it equally well."
He said that he's looking forward to his first season in Evanston, where, he thinks, the cupboard is far from bare.
"We've got a lot of skill guys coming back," McCall said. "We've got a fifth-year quarterback (C.J. Bacher) coming back. That's important.
"We'll have a good old time in the spring, I guarantee that."
Hankwitz said that Northwestern's offensive coaches should help the Wildcats defend the spread attack that so many teams in the Big Ten run at least some of the time.
"We'll rely on our offensive coaches to help us with it, too," he said.
It's long been rumored that Fitzgerald would like to move to a 3-4 defense, and his recent recruiting seems to reflect that. But on Friday, both Fitzgerald and Hankwitz talked about the need for the Wildcats to continue to be multiple on defense, whether that's a base 4-3 or a 3-4.
Hankwitz explained that the goal is to be multiple on defense to confuse the offense, while still remaining simple enough so that the players can execute it effectively.
Hankwitz coached a 4-3 during his most recent coaching stop, two years as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. But he said that he's had plenty of experience running both defenses in his nearly four decades of coaching.
"What our players can do best, we're going to do," he said.
Fitzgerald echoed those sentiments, saying that it remains to be seen what kind of defense his team runs.
"Is it 3-4 this year? Time will tell. Is it 4-3? Time will tell."
Fitzgerald still has one more coaching position to fill on his staff: defensive line coach. Previous coach Eric Washington left that position to take a defensive assistant job with the Chicago Bears. He did not give a timetable for hiring the new coach, but did say he would consult his two newest coaches when identifying potential hires.
Fitzgerald said that he also reached out to his network of coaches when conducting the searches that produced McCall and Hankwitz. He said that one of the mentors he called was Gary Barnett, the man that coached Fitzgerald at Northwestern.
"When I need some information, or an ear to listen or an opinion, Coach Barnett is always there for me," he said.