David Braun has been thrust into a position he did not anticipate being in.
Back in January, Braun was hired by then-Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald to be NU’s defensive coordinator. Six months later, Braun is running the program.
Braun is serving as the Wildcats’ interim head coach after Fitzgerald was fired following an investigation into hazing in his football program. Fitzgerald, who was going into his 18th season as the head coach at his alma mater, has denied having any knowledge of hazing, but several former players have filed lawsuits against the school alleging the hazing activities were widespread in the program.
With the 2023 football season less than two months away, the ongoing scandal pushed Braun into an uncomfortable spotlight Wednesday at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis.
“I never could have imagined, nor did I desire, to become a head coach under these types of circumstances,” Braun said. “This obviously has been a very difficult time for our team, our staff, our current and former players impacted, our alumni, the university, and the broader Northwestern community.”
Other than Fitzgerald’s ouster, the rest of Northwestern’s football coaching staff has been retained for the 2023 season. That includes longtime Wildcats assistant Matt MacPherson even after he was named in a recent lawsuit filed by former NU football player Lloyd Yates. Yates alleged that MacPherson, who has been on staff at Northwestern since 2006, witnessed several alleged acts of hazing. Jay Hooten, Northwestern’s head strength coach since 2011, was also named in the lawsuit.
Braun declined to comment on those coaches being named in the lawsuit, deferring to university leadership.
“I won't speak to current allegations. I fully trust that our university is going through a process and will make decisions based on the facts,” Braun said. “What I can speak to is how proud I am of the way that our team has come together with all this stuff swirling around our football team. There's absolute resolve and confidence from our leadership within our team of how we're going to move forward.”
Braun, who spent the last four seasons at North Dakota State, described the weeks since Fitzgerald’s firing as “very emotional” for the players and staff. With preseason practice just around the corner, Braun hopes to refocus a team that is looking to take some strides after going just 1-11 in 2022.
“Through one-on-one meetings with a majority of our team, I have found a team that has come together, that truly loves one another, and has an incredible resolve to attack the 2023 season and write their own story about overcoming adversity,” Braun said. “Let me be clear. This football team will be ready to go.”
Since Fitzgerald’s firing, three Northwestern players have entered the transfer portal — all on defense. Linebacker Juice Cryer has already committed to Florida State while linebacker Nigel Glover and safety Jeremiah Lewis are uncommitted.
The Wildcats are scheduled to open the season at Rutgers on Sept. 3.