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Northwestern signs coach Pat Fitzgerald for 10 more years

Northwestern's football team plays their spring scrimmage Ryan Field EvanstSaturday April 16 2011. Head coach PFitzgerald looks during warmups. Phoby

Northwestern's football team plays their spring scrimmage at Ryan Field in Evanston, Saturday, April 16, 2011. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald looks on during warmups. Photo by J.Geil.

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Updated: June 12, 2011 12:27AM

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald signed a 10-year contract extension that will keep him in Evanston until 2020, the university announced Tuesday.

Although no specifics were released, an industry source estimates that Fitzgerald’s salary will increase significantly with the extension. The source also said that Fitzgerald’s new contract could rank him in the middle of Big Ten football coaches. Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz are at the top of the scale, making close to $4 million a year.

“With 10 years, I don’t know if we can have a stronger statement of our commitment [to Fitzgerald],” athletic director Jim Phillips said. “I’ve said time and time again that he is so important to Northwestern football, but also to the [athletic] department and the university. This is a reflection on how people feel about Pat.”

Phillips is hoping the extension will silence the rumor mill about Fitzgerald leaving NU whenever a coaching vacancy arises.

“I can’t stop speculation, but this is as strong and bold of a statement [to make],” Phillips said.

Phillips said increasing the salaries of Fitzgerald’s assistants and the program’s recruiting budget and a potentially significant upgrade in the football facilities were all put in the final contract.

That facilities upgrade could be announced soon. The university hired Populous, an international design company that specializes in sports structures, to study every athletic facility on NU’s campus. The company should present its recommendations on what to upgrade to the university sometime this summer.

The long extension not only ties Fitzgerald to NU until he is 46, but it has also given him confidence when he goes out on the road recruiting players.

“I’ve kept some players in the loop about it and now I can formally show [the university’s] commitment,” Fitzgerald said.

Even though 10 years is a long time and a lot can change, both personally and professionally for Fitzgerald, he said he isn’t worried about signing a deal that some could perceive as being too long.

“I’m not worried about the alternative,” Fitzgerald said.

Phillips has long said he will not discuss coaches’ futures or contracts during their season, but he made an exception to his rule twice with Fitzgerald. In October, Phillips mentioned to Fitzgerald that he wanted to re-examine Fitzgerald’s contract. Fitzgerald had signed a seven-year extension in June 2009.

Phillips approached Fitzgerald again on Jan. 1 after the Wildcats lost to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas, telling the 36-year old coach that he wanted to keep Fitzgerald in Evanston for a number of years.

In January, the two parties agreed in principal to a long extension, but a source said the contract was not finalized and signed until last weekend.

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