Fitzgerald rewarded with extension

Northwestern rewarded coach Pat Fitzgerald with a seven-year contract extension Tuesday after the team improved its wins total in each of the past two seasons.

Fitzgerald's new contract runs through the 2015 season. He received a five-year contract when he took over as head coach at his alma mater in July 2006, just a week after the sudden death of Randy Walker.

Financial terms of the extension were not disclosed.

"This has been one of our top priorities the past few months," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said in a statement. "There is no doubt that Pat is the right individual to lead Northwestern's football program well into the future.

"In three years, Pat has quickly developed into one of the nation's top young head coaches. He bleeds purple and has tremendous passion for Northwestern."

Fitzgerald, who had been on the Wildcats' coaching staff since 2001, was the youngest head coach in the FBS when he succeeded Walker, at age 31, and remains the second-youngest behind Tennessee's Lane Kiffin.

Northwestern went 4-8 in his first season but improved to 6-6 in 2007 and 9-4 last year, when the Wildcats finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten and reached the Alamo Bowl. The nine victories tied for the second-most in team history.

Fitzgerald's name had been rumored for potential coaching vacancies, most notably at Notre Dame, but he has indicated no plans to leave Northwestern or the Chicago area, where he grew up.

"It's no secret that I want to be the head football coach at Northwestern for many years to come," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "Our football program is succeeding both on and off the field, and we're proud of our recent accomplishments. We have greater aspirations, however, and I'm thankful to our administration for helping us support that vision."

A former two-time national defensive player of the year while at Northwestern from 1993 to 1996, Fitzgerald starred at linebacker for Wildcats teams that won consecutive Big Ten titles and reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 47 years. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December and will be enshrined this summer.

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.