Pat Fitzgerald

Corey Wootton ‘stunned' by Pat Fitzgerald's firing, believes he will coach again

The former Northwestern and Chicago Bears football player joined Football Night in Chicago

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One of the more shocking college football stories in recent history dropped over last weekend when details of Northwestern Football's hazing scandal were reported by students of The Daily Northwestern.

On Monday, the school decided to fire Pat Fitzgerald, the Northwestern football head coach, days after they initially suspended him for two weeks without pay for a third-party law firm's conclusion on the matter.

Corey Wootton, former Northwestern and Chicago Bears football player, joined NBC Sports Chicago's Football Night in Chicago to react to the news and share his two cents on his college experience in Evanston.

"I'm definitely stunned," Wootton told Mark Carman on the show Thursday.

"It was definitely surprising. I think all of us thought Pat Fitzgerald would be there until the end of his career. And unfortunately, the situation and everything that transpired played out the way it did."

Details of sexual abuse and hazing were reported after an outside law firm initially reported found evidence of hazing from their investigation. The firm did not find "sufficient" evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing, though said the staff had opportunities of finding out.

The more grotesque details of the hazing came from a group of players called the "Shrek gang" known for "running" a freshman player for making a mistake in practice. According to former players via multiple reports, older players would wear masks and trap freshmen in a locker room and engage in sexual behavior.

The darkest caveat to the story, some players recall Fitzgerald signaling for older players to conduct the acts upon freshmen when the coach saw mistakes in practice. The school admitted they "might have erred" after their initial punishment towards Fitzgerald wasn't fit enough.

From Wootton's perspective, however, he could not relate to the behavior reported about the team, nor Fitzgerald.

"When I went there, and I hung out with the guys there, they were down to Earth. Everybody seemed to get along with each other. It was a really great locker room," Wootton said.

Wootton played for Northwestern under Fitzgerald from 2005-09, playing five seasons with the Wildcats. There, he recorded 156 tackles, 38.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.

Wootton said he visited his alma mater and the football team during his time in the NFL but didn't experience a deep enough involvement with the team to know or see evidence of hazing.

"It's hard to comment on what happened after I left," Wootton said. "As an NFL player, you come back, you talk to the team for a second, but you're not involved in the locker room and the daily stuff with the guys. You really don't know exactly what's going on."

On Thursday, Pete Thamel reported defensive coordinator David Braun has been elevated to Northwestern's interim head coach for the 2023 season. Northwestern returned all of Fitzgerald's staff, despite openly firing their head coach for his involvement in the hazing scandal.

Wootton believes, however, Fitzgerald will coach once again when the dust settles.

"I would say he's definitely gonna coach again. I just don't know where. I think he'll eventually coach one day when this all gets settled."

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