The eyes of the college football world were on Northwestern interim head coach David Braun on Wednesday, as he spoke to reporters for the first time since the firing of Pat Fitzgerald by the university earlier this month.
Braun, who had previously served as the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State before being hired by the Wildcats for the same role earlier this year, now finds himself at the helm, at least temporarily, of a program facing a wave of controversy.
“I’ve never been this far outside of my comfort zone,” he told reporters on Wednesday at the Big Ten’s media days in Indianapolis. “The circumstances surrounding our family’s opportunity in being elevated to interim head coach were not dream-like scenarios, but they have done one thing: they have crystalized our family’s purpose. As a family, our mission, Kristin and I truly believe, is that football is the ultimate vehicle to have a positive impact on young men.”
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Those circumstances involved a hazing investigation that ultimately led to the firing of Fitzgerald, who had guided the team for nearly 20 years. While investigators found no evidence that Fitzgerald and his coaching staff were aware of hazing rituals that took place within the football program, it was determined that the staff had adequate opportunity to learn about the behaviors.
Braun of course faced questions about the allegations, deferring to external reviews of the situation.
“I won’t speak to current allegations. I fully trust that our university is going through a process and will make decisions based on those facts,” he said.
Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti, speaking at media days for the first time since taking a leadership role in the conference, echoed similar themes.
“The process in the conference on these matters is led by the institution. There’s no investigation being launched by the conference,” he said.
Braun also faced questions about the decision of players Bryce Gallagher, Rod Heard II and Bryce Kirtz not to attend the media event this week, emphasizing that the decision was made by the players after input from coaches, families and others.
“It was in the best interest of the team to focus on preparing for fall camp,” he said.
While the cloud of controversy continues to swirl around the program, Braun says the players in Evanston are focused on preparing for the upcoming season, and that they will seek to overcome what he calls the “adversity” posed by the jarring events of recent weeks.
“We have an opportunity to either run from that (challenge), or an opportunity to truly stare that adversity in the face, stare it down, and go attack this opportunity to make this fall an incredible story that truly embodies what this team is all about,” he said.