The decision comes days after Northwestern announced Fitzgerald, 48, would be suspended without pay for two weeks following an investigation into hazing allegations within the program, as well as an anonymous former player coming forward with allegations of sexual violations the following day.
Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern linebacker, initially returned to his alma mater in 2001 as a defensive backs coach under late former head coach Randy Walker, who he later succeeded following Walker's unexpected death in 2006. The Illinois native went 110-101 during 17 seasons as head coach, which included two Big Ten West Division titles in 2018 and 2020.
On Saturday (July 8), a former Northwestern football player said hazing incidents within the program included alleged sexual violations following Fitzgerald's suspension in an exclusive interview with the Daily Northwestern.
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and it’s just absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane behavior,” the player said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The player said the alleged incidents took place in late November 2022 and mainly centered around a practice dubbed "running," which aimed to punish players, primarily freshmen, for mistakes made both during games and in practice.
Players selected for "running" would be restrained by 8-10 upperclassmen wearing "Purge-like" masks who would "dry-hump" the victims in a dark locker room, according to the anonymous former player.
“It’s a shocking experience as a freshman to see your fellow freshman teammates get ran, but then you see everybody bystanding in the locker room,” the player told the Daily Northwestern. “It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now.”
The Daily Northwestern said it obtained whiteboards labeled "Runsgiving" and "Shrek's List," which included the names of players that the former player claimed were targeted during the "running" sessions.
“It’s done under this smoke and mirror of ‘oh, this is team bonding,’ but no, this is sexual abuse,” the player said via the Daily Northwestern.
Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks without pay, prohibited from conducting off-campus practices at Kenosha, Wisconsin -- the team's previous preseason training site where the alleged hazing took place -- and scheduled to be monitored by an individual who was not part of his staff following the probe in to the program. Fitzgerald said he was "very disappointed" to learn of hazing allegations from within the program.
"Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University," Fitzgerald said in a statement obtained by ESPN. "We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward."
Northwestern commissioned an investigation launched in January, which confirmed a hazing claim made by an anonymous whistleblower, though accounts from players about the situation varied and there wasn't evidence showing that coaches were aware of the incidents. The hazing incidents were reported to have taken place inside the team locker room and potentially started at 'Camp Kenosha,' where the team held its camp during the week of preseason until 2020, according to a summary of the incident obtained by ESPN.
"The investigation did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach, participation in or knowledge of the hazing activities was widespread across football players," the summary reads.