Fitzgerald dies; built Zags' foundation

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Dan Fitzgerald, the coach who built Gonzaga into a national basketball power but resigned before the school began its current run of NCAA tournaments, has died at age 67.

Fitzgerald collapsed Tuesday evening in a restaurant in the suburb of Airway Heights. He was pronounced dead at Deaconness Medical Center in Spokane, according to a nursing supervisor at the hospital.

The cause of death was not immediately released.

Fitzgerald recruited John Stockton to campus, took the Zags to their first NCAA tournament in 1995 and built the coaching staff of Mark Few, Dan Monson and Bill Grier that has put the Zags in every NCAA tournament since the 1999 season.

Fitzgerald was 252-171 as coach from 1978 to 1997, and also served as athletic director.

"He was an unforgettable personality," Stockton told The Spokesman-Review. "He was loyal -- incredibly loyal -- above all. He was there for anything and everything I've ever needed, ever asked for."

Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents the Spokane area, said Fitzgerald will be mourned throughout the Northwest.

"Like so many Gonzaga fans, I held Coach Fitzgerald in the highest esteem for transforming Gonzaga's basketball team into a superpower," Rodgers said.

Fitzgerald stepped down in December 1997 after a school investigation determined he had been collecting and spending some athletic department funds without the knowledge of the university controller's office, a possible violation of NCAA rules. Fitzgerald contended that none of the money went to players or into his own pocket.

In recent years, he had worked as community relations manager for the Northern Quest Casino.

Fitzgerald took Gonzaga to its first NCAA tournament in 1995, and he recruited the players who went to the Elite Eight in 1999. Only Hank Anderson (291) and current coach Few (278) have more victories for Gonzaga.

Fitzgerald served as head coach from 1978-1981, and then from 1985-1997. He spent four years concentrating on his duties as athletic director, including renovating the basketball arena that became known as The Kennel.

Known throughout Spokane simply as "Fitz," the coach had a big personality, and his imprint remains on the Gonzaga program, which is currently ranked No. 15.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Fitz," Few told The Spokesman-Review. Few was brought to campus in the early 1990s as a low-paid assistant.

"He's had a huge impact on how we still run the program, how we work, how we prepare," Few said. "What we do and what we achieve now has Fitz's imprint all over it."

Fitzgerald is survived by his wife and daughter.