Of all the topics Pat Fitzgerald and I discussed on Thursday, the one that received the shortest answer had to do with his impending contract extension. In fact, it didn’t receive an oral answer. Fitz merely shrugged.
While AD Jim Phillips said the contract is with the lawyers to do the fine-print thing, Fitzgerald’s last thought is about his future security. Not after the Wildcats lost their final three games of the 2010 season by a combined score of 163-88.
“My utmost concern is getting our attitude back,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the area where I feel I failed the most last year. We lost our attitude and we turned the ball over 10 times in our last two regular-season games. You can’t do that and win.
“We’ve got to do a better job of coaching our guys up to take care of the football. And then, obviously, we didn’t tackle very well in those last few weeks. That’s critically important for us. Those are some easy micro things we’ve got to work on this spring.”
With that in mind, Fitzgerald noted his message to the players as they kicked off winter workouts (two weeks after the TicketCity Bowl): “No one has a job. All jobs are open. Competition is going to figure out our two-deep walking out of spring. What they do this summer and how they come back and how they go through (Camp) Kenosha will create the two-deep for the opener.”
While that sounds like coach-speak to a certain extent, Fitz made his point more emphatically this time around.
“I made sure it was crystal-clear,” he said. “My point was to the team, based on the way we played our last three ballgames, why should anybody feel --- myself included --- that our jobs are in a good place right now. There needs to be a sense of urgency for all of us to improve and to fix our attitude. That’s what we lost: Our attitude.”
Of course, vets like first-team all-Big Ten QB Dan Persa and fourth-year starting left tackle Al Netter and second-team all-Big Ten defensive end Vince Browne are highly likely to keep their gigs. So I wanted to know whether the younger Wildcats are giving in to human nature…or whether they’ve taken Fitz at his word and gone all-out for the first five weeks of conditioning and workouts.
I used freshman tackle Paul Jorgensen, who captured the coaches’ attention on the scout team while he redshirted in the fall, as an example as he tries to catch Netter and incumbent right tackle Patrick Ward.
“Yeah, but I think they see other opportunities,” Fitz said. “He might be realistic that he’s not going to catch Netter, but he might be able to win the right guard or left guard or center job. Right now (I’m seeing that), but more often than not, human nature tells a young man, ‘It’s not my turn yet.’ I wanted to make sure everyone knew it was their turn right now. Seize the opportunity.’ Or if you don’t? That’s fine. You won’t.”
Are there some young guys who haven’t given in to human nature and decided it’s their time already?
“They stick out…and we’ve got a handful of those guys sticking out right now,” Fitz said. “But I’m still not ready to start putting their names in the paper yet until I see them go through the whole winter --- and then get things going in spring practice to the point where I see a consistency. It’s one thing to do it in a winter workout one day or two days. But let’s put together some consistent days.
“So far, we’re in a better place than we were a year ago. Especially from the standpoint of our conditioning and our strength. We’re further along than we’ve been.”