Northwestern named David Braun as its interim head coach for the 2023 college football season on Friday.
Braun has been on campus at Northwestern for only the past seven months. Pat Fitzgerald hired Braun to be his defensive coordinator in January but now Braun will take on an even bigger role after Fitzgerald’s dismissal that followed an investigation into hazing allegations in the Wildcats’ program.
Braun spent the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State, helping the Bison win FCS national titles in 2019 and 2021. In 2021, he was named the FCS Coordinator of the Year. He has never coached at the FBS level. Prior to his time at NDSU, Braun was a defensive assistant at Northern Iowa (FCS), UC Davis (FCS), Winona State (Division II) and Culver-Stockton (NAIA).
Braun and the remaining staff will be tasked with trying to keep the roster together with the season less than two months away. Though the transfer portal windows are closed, the firing of a coach opens a 30-day transfer window for players at an affected school. To this point, no Northwestern players have decided to enter the transfer portal, though several recruits have backed away from verbal commitments.
According to multiple reports, Northwestern is expected to keep Fitzgerald’s assistant coaches and other staff members for the 2023 season. The Wildcats are scheduled to begin preseason practice in August before opening their season at Rutgers on Sept. 3.
Braun’s appointment as interim head coach comes four days after Fitzgerald was fired by school president Michael Schill. Schill had suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks, but reversed course and fired the longtime head coach on Monday after details of alleged hazing within the Northwestern football program emerged in a story from The Daily Northwestern.
Northwestern received an anonymous complaint with the allegations in November and subsequently hired an outside law firm to investigate the claims. Last Friday, Northwestern released a summary report of the investigation and announced the suspension for Fitzgerald, among other measures.
Investigators did not find “sufficient evidence” that Fitzgerald or members of his coaching staff were aware of the hazing. However, investigators concluded that there were “significant opportunities” for the coaches to “discover and report the hazing conduct.” Northwestern released only a summary of the investigation with very few details.
An anonymous former Northwestern player described the alleged hazing acts to The Daily Northwestern in a report published the day after the summary was released. The player characterized the alleged hazing as “vile and inhumane behavior” and claimed Fitzgerald was aware of the ongoing hazing and even encouraged it.
Monday, Schill announced Fitzgerald’s firing after “a difficult and complex evaluation” of his “original discipline decision.”
“Since Friday, I have kept going back to what we should reasonably expect from our head coaches, our faculty and our campus leaders. And that is what led me to make this decision," Schill said.
"The head coach is ultimately responsible for the culture of his team. The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening. Either way, the culture in Northwestern football, while incredible in some ways, was broken in others."
Fitzgerald, via statement earlier this week to ESPN, said he was unaware of the alleged incidents, was surprised at his firing and is taking "necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law."