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Pat Fitzgerald: The Irish-American set to lead Northwestern University Wildcats out at the Aviva Stadium

Pat Fitzgerald 5

Northwestern Wildcats take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Aviva Stadium in August.

With a name like Pat Fitzgerald, one would assume US College football’s star coaching attraction has deep-rooted Irish connections, and it would be a correct one.

Currently the head coach of Northwestern, both sides of Fitzgerald’s family hail from Ireland, with one half from Nurney, Co. Kildare, and the other from the area surrounding the River Shannon.

And later this year, Fitzgerald has the opportunity to lead his collegiate side out at the Aviva Stadium, as they take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Dublin 4.

“I’m a very proud American with deep Irish roots, and to learn about that side of my family was very emotional..”

While his immediate family have long departed these shores, it was on social media where he reconnected with his family left in Ireland.

And it was in February when he met his family in person, for the first time, aided by Irish genealogy experts at the EPIC musuem in Dublin.

“Me and my wife Stacey came over to Ireland over a month ago, and one of the great privileges I had, and it seemed like a whirlwind, but I had an opportunity to go to EPIC, and have my genealogy done extensively,” he explained.

“The census prior to 1901 was tough to find out, but I got out to see, and meet a side of my family in Nurney. It was awesome, and they will be my guests at the game with my dad.

“I’m a very proud American with deep Irish roots, and to learn about that side of my family was very emotional.

“It was very special and I am just proud of it. I am very excited to share the game with them on August 27th.”

“It was unbelievable, and a great experience, to be in pre-season with a Super Bowl level team..”

On August 27th, Fitzgerald brings his Northwestern Wildcats to Ireland in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, as one of the most decorated coaches in the college game in the United States.

His coaching days, however, followed a successful career in the college game playing wise, featuring against NFL legend Peyton Manning for a spell.

But he has been at Northwestern for 16 years as a head coach, having called time on his playing days, after a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s.

“This interview has lasted longer than my NFL experience with the Dallas Cowboys, so I don’t want anybody thinking I was worth a darn in the NFL,” he laughs.

“It was unbelievable, and a great experience, to be in pre-season with a Super Bowl level team.

“Troy Aikman, Emmett Smith, and Michael Irvin. I forget the number but I want to say it was six to eight pro football hall of famers that were in that locker room on that roster that I had a chance to share two or three pre-season games with.

“It’s been a long time, but it’s different. Professional sports in America are very different than the current college model. You can be fired. They call it get cut, but you get fired in the NFL. It’s a day-to-day contract even though you maybe have two or three years.

“They can still cut you, so it is not guaranteed money like [there is] in the NBA or the Major League Baseball.

“The NFL is very cut-throat,” he adds. “There’s obviously a tonne of supply of guys that want the job. There is just not a lot of demand..

“But, you know, my last college game was against this kid named Peyton Manning. He turned out to be pretty good and, and hopefully I’m half as good of him as a coach.”

Pat Fitzgerald.

For now, at least, Fitzgerald is locked in to a 10-year contract with Northwestern University, and is hoping to maintain his unprecedented success with his current side.

That desire to succeed, however, comes amid the backdrop of the financial lure that may be present within the NFL.

Fitzgerald, however, is keen to stay involved with his current employer, for now at least, having stepped in following the tragic passing of his predecessor, Randy Walker, in 2006.

Pat Fitzgerald

“I went to school here, and my Mom and Dad did not go to college,” he explains.

“The opportunities that I’ve had in my life to provide for my family is because of that little ball over my shoulder here, but most importantly, the opportunity that was given to me to attend a great university like Northwestern.

“I took over [as head coach] when I was 31, when we lost our previous head coach through a tragic heart condition.

“Somebody a lot smarter than me gave me that opportunity, and we’ve been able to make it work for 16 years. I have got nine more left in my contract that coincides with my seventh grade son, graduate from college.

“But this is where I want to be. This is where I would love to retire. Typically, in our business, you are pretty nomadic.

“It’s not like you just stay in one place, and that can really impact your kids. I’ve got two in high school, and we have got one ready to go into his last year of high school, and then they will start the college experience.

“I’m having a blast, but I have to win games to keep my job. I’ve got to graduate guys, we do that better than anybody in the country and prepare them for life.

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“So it’s [about] keeping this thing going, in an upward direction. I’d love to be here for a long time.”

Chicago’s Northwestern Wildcats will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, 27th of August.

General tickets go on sale this Friday 29th April on www.ticketmaster.ie/touchdowndublin

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