At my age, I can look at Northwestern as either a really great school with a bad football team. Or, after the mid 1990’s, as a really great school that knows how to balance football and school.
Northwestern is not an annual college football playoff shoe-in. They still struggle to maintain an excellent program, but it all changed for the Wildcats in 1995 with head coach Gary Barnett and an outstanding All American linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald. After posting 3-8, 2-9 and 3-7-1 records at Northwestern, Barnett’s fourth team put it all together and finished the 1995 season with a fabulous 10-2 record that ended with a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Their spiritual leader was Fitzgerald, but he didn’t get to play in the Rose Bowl because he was lost for the season. He broke his leg near the end of the season. Fitzgerald was a two time consensus All American in 1995 and 1996.
After the 1995 season that many thought was a fluke, the Northwestern Wildcats again won the Big 10 Conference in 1996. This time, they tied Ohio State with the Buckeyes getting the Rose Bowl berth and the Wildcats getting a shot at Peyton Manning in the Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats lost to Tennessee and Manning and finished with a record of 9-3.
Those two seasons seemed to have turned a corner for the Northwestern Wildcats. The once great linebacker is now their head coach and he brings some of the same fire he had as a player into his coaching job.
He’s been the head coach at Northwestern for 11 seasons already and he’s led the team to 7 bowl games. His best year was in 2012 when the Wildcats won 10 games and lost 3. But, they also finished 10-3 in 2015 as well as 9-4 in 2008.
Now, the Northwestern Wildcats have a young linebacker that is somewhat similar to Pat Fitzgerald in ability.
Paddy Fisher was a 3 star recruit out of Katy, Texas in the 2016 class. Fisher led the Katy defense while 4 star running back Kyle Porter led the offense as Katy won 16 games in 2015 and the 8th state championship for Katy High School. Porter signed with the University of Texas in something of a surprise move and Paddy Fisher signed with Northwestern.
Redshirting his first season in Evanston, Fisher learned the defense and he was primed to start at inside linebacker for the Wildcats in 2017.
After 2 games, Fisher leads the team in tackles with 22.
Fisher is a throw back kind of guy. Great fundamentals and technique are what makes him a potentially great linebacker. From what I have seen of Paddy Fisher, you are not going to see him run up and spear a guy without wrapping his arms. It’s obvious that Fisher has been well coached so far on every level because he does bring the wood, but he doesn’t do so without also wrapping his arms around the ball carrier. Fisher is not the fastest guy you will ever see, but he makes up for it with great instincts which is what every great linebacker should have whether he has great speed, or not. Paddy Fisher was listed as 6-4, 245 with 4.9 40 speed coming out of high school. He’s probably a little smaller than the listed size because those things are greatly exaggerated all the time.
But, regardless of the listed size, Paddy Fisher is big enough and he is fast enough to play linebacker at the major college level and will continue to prove that over the next few years.
Back in the 1995 and 1996 season, when the Wildcats would be playing poorly on defense, you could see Pat Fitzgerald getting angry. His face was completely red inside his helmet and he would yell at his teammates to get it going. The Wildcats would get it going and the game would often change in favor of Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald was an awesome leader as a player and then again as a coach. Paddy Fisher has only played in 2 college games and it remains to be seen the exact leadership abilities that he possesses. He has the physical talent to get the job done, but a defenses’ middle, or inside linebackers usually take over the leadership roles. They are often the quarterbacks of the defense. Time will tell if Paddy Fisher is anything like Pat Fitzgerald. Or, maybe history really doesn’t repeat itself.