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NU wants to add years to Fitzgerald extension

After details of Michigan’s interest in Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald emerged Thursday, the university is working on a longer extension of Fitzgerald’s contract.

A source said representatives from Michigan came to Chicago last week in an attempt to talk to Fitzgerald about becoming the next head coach in Ann Arbor.

The source said Fitzgerald cut short a recruiting trip and returned to Chicago when Michigan expressed interest on Jan. 6. Fitzgerald responded through a university official last week that he was not interested in leaving Evanston. Michigan then hired former San Diego State coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday.

The source said Michigan representatives traveled to Chicago in hopes of luring Fitzgerald once they heard Fitzgerald had cut the recruiting trip short. But they never met with Fitzgerald, the source said.

In the aftermath of the Michigan interest, athletic director Jim Phillips said the university is going to work on tweaking Fitzgerald’s contract extension in the next month or two, adding a few years to the extension Fitzgerald signed in 2009.

Phillips said he isn’t more worried than usual about Fitzgerald taking a job somewhere else.

‘‘I don’t know if I would tell you I’m worried [about losing Fitzgerald],’’ Phillips said. ‘‘He and I have a strong relationship. I can only control what I can control. Do I worry? I’m not doing my job if I’m not knowledgeable about any of our coaches having [other] opportunities.’’

Contrary to media reports that have Fitzgerald and Phillips negotiating a lifetime contract, Phillips said the word ‘‘lifetime’’ isn’t used in contracts.

‘‘Lifetime? No, but it will be an extended deal,’’ Phillips said.

Fitzgerald, 36, signed a seven-year contract extension in the spring of 2009. He has said that he doesn’t want to coach anywhere else. Fitzgerald and his wife, Stacy, are from the Orland Park area and have family in the Chicago area. The couple have three young sons.

Another source said using the word ‘‘lifetime’’ in terms of a contract is very strong. But if Fitzgerald’s contract gets reworked, there could be a chance it would be extended for ‘‘longer than five years,’’ the source said.

‘‘The world changes and you have to be cognizant of that,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘Would I like him to be here forever? Yes. To date, this has been a perfect marriage.’’

Phillips said he does not negotiate or discuss a coach’s status during their season. Phillips said he told Fitzgerald in November that they would evaluate the football program and his contract at the end of the season. Then, in the locker room after the Wildcats lost the TicketCity Bowl 45-38 to Texas Tech on Jan. 1 in Dallas, Phillips reminded Fitzgerald of his promise.

Extending contracts for college coaches in the five- to 10-year range is not something new. On Wednesday, LSU and its football coach, Les Miles, agreed in principle to a new seven-year deal.

Fitzgerald has done a lot for the NU football program since taking over in 2006 when Randy Walker died of a heart attack. He coached the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl appearances, something that has never been done. This year’s senior class was the winningest class in the program’s history.



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