Instant Analysis: Colby Will Not Return
by Jonathan Hodges

Today, Northwestern officially announced that Greg Colby will not be returning as defensive coordinator for the Wildcats in 2008.  It was a move that has long been called for by Wildcat fans since coming on board in 2002 and leading the Northwestern defense to some very poor showings over that time (highlighted by the 2002 and 2005 seasons, in which NU ranked near or at the bottom of the country in total defense - and in 2002 points allowed).  Over that span, the NU defense ranked at or near the bottom of both the Big Ten and the nation in many major defensive statistical categories (highlighted by the inability to get pressure on the opposing QB or to get sacks, despite having NFL-caliber linemen on the squad).

Congrats to Coach Fitz for making his first difficult personnel call as the head coach at Northwestern in what is really his first opportunity to make such a call.  At the end of last season, Fitz had been on the job for just about 6 months, and the fact is that NU was still working through the loss of Coach Walker and needed stability within the program.  This year, though, Fitz is able to take full control of the program and put "his" people in place in order to move the football program forward.  Also, this was the first opportunity of the year to make personnel changes, now that the Northwestern football season is "officially" over after NU did not receive a bowl invitation this past weekend (although the chances were extremely slim to none going into the weekend - but NU did conduct practices last week and recruiting continued as normal).  The timing of this also helps out with recruiting and the NU fans out there who without a doubt have been questioning the direction of the NU defense for some time - Fitz has made the decision as soon as possible after the year - a decisive, tough, but necessary decision.

Best of luck to Colby in his future endeavors - I don't believe that myself or any other 'Cats fan had something against him personally - but the fact is that it is indeed time for Northwestern to turn a new page on the defense and to begin working its way up the ladder in terms of defensive production.  I fully believe Fitz, as a smart defensive-minded guy, will make a wise decision in terms of his next defensive coordinator, which will go a LONG way in determining the success of the program in the short term and even going forward beyond that.  Over Walker's span as HC at NU, and even into Fitz's second year as HC, it has been the defense holding NU back from making the step to the next level - in both 2000 and 2005 the NU defense allowed a lot of points and yards but thrived off of turnovers.  Meanwhile, in the "down" years (2002, 2006, and 2007) when the turnovers have not come, it has meant the absolute basement for NU.

So, what does this mean for Northwestern?  Well, it's time for Fitz to put his stamp on Northwestern football in his area of expertise - the defense.  Who is possibly in line for the DC job?

Randy Bates, LB coach (NU) -- First on the list has to be Bates - he's already at NU, he knows the ropes, he's had success in his one stint as DC at Louisiana Tech, and he has a lot of prior coaching experience at the collegiate level.  He's an "energy" guy and he seems to be liked at NU.  Plus, he's an "expert" at running the 3-4 defense at the college level, something NU has been transitioning towards for the past few years.  Look for an announcement soon ( e.g. this week) if he's going to be the guy.

? -- Outside of that, I don't personally think that there are any strong contenders at this point, although if it takes more than a few days to make a decision, the fact is that it probably won't be Bates and that other names will emerge.  Those looking for Vanderlinden or high profile DCs at this level will probably be disappointed as I don't see a young Coach Fitz bringing on board someone who essentially "outranks" him and would probably demand a high salary and a high profile.  Instead, I see Fitz going after an up and comer who has experience coaching defense at the collegiate level but has lots of upside and no real experience being a DC at this level (BCS conference school).  I also expect Fitz to bring in someone with whom he's had prior experience as coaches tend to bring in guys that they know and trust.  I would guess a decision would be coming before too long as Fitz and his staff have had some time to think this over and undoubtedly have a "short list" of DC candidates prepared for this situation - also with a key recruiting period coming up in January I would guess he would want to have his staff (or at least a DC to lead the defensive strategy) in place shortly.

In any case I consider today a turning point for Northwestern football this decade as I fully expect Fitz to hire someone who, along with himself, will help "right the ship" and lead the NU defense into a new era of success.

Also, as previously reported, AD Mark Murphy has officially stepped down and taken the Packers' President and CEO position as reported by Northwestern and the Packers.  No indication on NU's progress in finding a new AD, but in that regard I expect Bienen and the trustees to make a well-thought out decision (much like they did when bringing in Murphy) and to most likely bring in someone from the outside but in a similar mold as Murphy to continue to lead Northwestern athletics into a successful future.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges' commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of HailToPurple.com.