CHICAGO (AP) — Northwestern rewarded coach David Braun for a remarkable turnaround following Pat Fitzgerald’s firing in the wake of a hazing and abuse scandal by removing the “interim” label from his job title on Wednesday.
Hired in January as the team’s defensive coordinator, Braun and the Wildcats (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) are in a position few would have envisioned.
“I am truly honored for the opportunity to continue leading Northwestern’s football program,” Braun said in a statement. “Over the past five months, having the chance to lead this group has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Moving forward, my mission is to build on this positive momentum, aiming to create one of the best experiences in college football for our student-athletes.”
Braun is the school’s 30th head football coach. He is scheduled to address the media, along with Schill and athletic director Dr. Derrick Gragg, on Thursday afternoon.
At 38, Braun is the 10th-youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The only coach younger in the Big Ten is Purdue’s Ryan Walters, who is 37.
Braun seemed more like a place-holder given his background when he was elevated to interim head coach three days after Fitzgerald was fired, ending a 17-year tenure. He had never coached at an FBS program let alone led one, but after spending the past four seasons as defensive coordinator at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, he has been a steadying force at Northwestern.
The calls to stick with him grew louder in recent weeks.
Gragg said Braun “embodies the values of our athletic department: respect, integrity, service and excellence” and has “earned this position.”
“Coach Braun has rallied the team under very adverse circumstances,” he said. “He has gained the respect of the student-athletes, the staff, parents, alumni and our fans.”
Northwestern has more wins than in the previous two seasons combined, after going 3-9 in 2021 and 1-11 last year, and is one away from bowl eligibility. The Wildcats face Purdue on Saturday.
Players made their feelings clear, giving full-throated endorsements after the Wildcats won at Wisconsin on Saturday. They even had #RemoveTheTag circulating on social media.
“He’s never wavered,” quarterback Ben Bryant after leading Northwestern to the 24-10 win over the Badgers. “He stepped in a really difficult situation and has taken us to this point. I think we still have a lot to go, but he’s the guy that everyone looks to, to lead and motivate.”
Braun is the first Northwestern coach with five wins in his first season since Walter McCornack went 10-1-3 in 1903. And he has a chance to become the first to finish above .500 in his debut year since Pappy Waldorf led the 1935 team to a 4-31 record. The Wildcats were a combined 4-20 in 2021 and 2022.
“We asked Dave to support our student-athletes this season, and he has done an exceptional job,” school President Michael Schill said. “Under his guidance, Northwestern’s football team has exceeded expectations on the field and excelled in the classroom. The turnaround he has led, under very difficult circumstances, is nothing short of phenomenal.”
Northwestern is facing more than a dozen lawsuits across multiple sports with allegations including sexual abuse of players by teammates, as well as racist comments by coaches and race-based assaults. Baseball coach Jim Foster was fired July 13 amid allegations of a toxic culture that included bullying and abusive behavior.
Fitzgerald, by far Northwestern’s winningest coach, is suing his alma mater for $130 million, saying it wrongfully fired him. He was let go three days after the school announced a two-week suspension without pay following an investigation by attorney Maggie Hickey of law firm ArentFox Schiff. That probe did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing, but concluded there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it.
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