EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald for cause, his attorney told ESPN on Tuesday, setting up a potential legal showdown between the College Football Hall of Famer and his alma mater.
Attorney Dan Webb said he communicated with Northwestern's general counsel, who informed him of the for-cause termination for Fitzgerald, who had led the team since 2006 and is a former two-time national defensive player of the year at the school. University president Michael Schill fired Fitzgerald on Monday afternoon, citing a partially "broken" team culture following an investigation into hazing within the program.
Webb is researching legal strategies and has not filed a lawsuit, but he cited "two different major breach of contract claims" with Northwestern as well as significant reputational damage.
Northwestern has not informed Webb whether it is seeking to withhold the remaining salary on Fitzgerald's 10-year contract signed in January 2021. Fitzgerald is owed more than $40 million from the school.
Webb told ESPN that in addition to Fitzgerald's employment contract, Northwestern violated an oral agreement reached between the coach, Schill and the university's general counsel last week. Northwestern on Friday announced a two-week, unpaid suspension for Fitzgerald, one of several responding actions after an investigation into the hazing allegations found that the claims were "largely supported by the evidence."
The investigation by attorney Maggie Hickey and the ArentFox Schiff firm did not find evidence that Fitzgerald or Northwestern's other coaches knew about the hazing activities but that they had opportunities to discover and report the behavior.
"I cannot understand how you could terminate someone for cause when they [Northwestern] admit that their own lawyer does not have any evidence that my client ever knew anything at all, about any of the alleged hazing behavior," Webb said. "If I present that to a jury someday, a jury is going have a hard time believing that you can terminate someone for cause when they didn't know anything about [the incidents]."
Webb said Northwestern's general counsel, Stephanie Graham, told him that the school and Fitzgerald had agreed to the two-week suspension in advance of Friday's announcement. He added that Graham told Fitzgerald and his agent, Bryan Harlan, that "this is all there would be."
Northwestern declined comment when asked about the oral agreement and the reasoning for Fitzgerald's for-cause firing.
"Under Illinois law, an oral agreement is a contract," said Webb, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. "They had all the facts available to them. They thought the proper punishment was a two-week suspension without pay. That was their judgment. They made the decision. We agreed to go along with it, and we issued a statement to support them.
"So they've now breached an oral agreement and damaged his reputation enormously. And for no reason. This entire series of events by Northwestern, I cannot understand it."
Webb contends Northwestern had "no new information" between the initial two-week suspension for Fitzgerald and his firing, noting that the hazing details reported Saturday by The Daily Northwestern mirrored what Hickey had been told during the investigation.
Webb is open to a resolution outside of court, but he noted the reputational damage Fitzgerald has endured because of his firing.
"There's a huge reputational issue that will be part of it," Webb said. "If we were to proceed with litigation, it would be a very large damage case because he can claim loss compensation for eight years left on his contract. And 10 years in the future, he can't replace it. So you're talking about a huge amount of money."