Northwestern interim football coach, AD Gragg decline to address hazing allegations at Big Ten media day

Typically, Big Ten football media days include the coach and three of his top players talking positively about the upcoming season. It's a feel good day for the program.

Of course, nothing has been typical for Northwestern the past three weeks.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern's coach for the past 17 years who was a star linebacker for the Wildcats and has been on the coaching staff since 2000, was fired July 10 after a hazing scandal in his program. That came three days after he was initially suspended two weeks before the story blew up thanks to the work of Northwestern's student journalists.

Ryan Braun, just hired in January as Northwestern's defensive coordinator, was elevated to head coach following Fitzgerald's dismissal. He met the media Wednesday in Indianapolis.

With more lawsuits coming against Northwestern and the athletic department in the last week, Braun repeated a mantra similar to this for much of his time at the podium Wednesday:

"I won't speak to current allegations," Braun said. "Fully trust that our university is going through a process and will make decisions based on the facts.

"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."

The three Northwestern players scheduled to attend - Bryce Gallagher, Rod Heard II and Bryce Kirtz - announced Tuesday they would not.

They ended their statement with "Go Cats" - just as Fitzgerald always did in his media interviews.

In the time the three players would have appeared on the Big Ten Network for interviews Wednesday as players from the other Big Ten schools did, Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg sat down for an interview with Dave Revsine.

It was the first media appearance since the story broke for Gragg, who cited the "complexities of the legal situation" for not talking before. He said he and Northwestern President Michael Schill wanted to work inside out, and have had meetings with student-athletes, coaches, boosters, trustees and alumni before addressing the media.

Gragg said several times he's not discussing the report about hazing or the process that went from Fitzgerald going from a two-week suspension in the middle of the summer to being fired.

Assistant NU football coach Matt MacPherson is still on the staff and alleged to have witnessed the hazing.

"Every employee is afforded due process," Gragg said. "That situation is being looked into and investigated."

It's not just the football program fallout Gragg is dealing with. He also has problems surfacing in baseball and women's volleyball, among others with hazing and racial issues.

"We inherited a lot of these things or most of them so it's our job to correct them," Gragg said. "The brand has taken on a large amount of challenges. I feel bad for some of our coaches who some of them are hearing allegations for the first time among our student-athletes. I can tell you any allegation that comes in is seriously vetted and investigated and regardless of the outcome we are going to do the right thing."

During Braun's session with the media, he walked the line between talking about how becoming a Big Ten head coach is a lifelong dream with not wanting to do it under these circumstances, and how he has been working with the players to try to move forward this season in an extremely difficult situation.

"I never could have imagined, nor did I desire, to become a head coach under these types of circumstances," said Braun, who came to Northwestern from North Dakota State. "That said, I'm honored to lead this group moving forward. ... When Coach Fitz offered our family the opportunity to come to Northwestern back in January, and I started work on January 16 of this year, my wife and I had to pinch ourselves. An opportunity to coordinate in the Big Ten, to work for a man like Coach Fitz, to be close to my family in Wisconsin, to be a part of the Big Ten, and the opportunity to mentor young men that value what Northwestern stands for - a world-class education competing on the biggest stage in college football."

Northwestern, which already faced questions heading into the season after going 1-11 last year and 3-9 in 2021, opens the season Sept. 3 at Rutgers in a nationally-televised game on Fox.

"Let me be clear," Braun said. "This football team will be ready to go. I look forward to coming together as a team, a staff, an athletic administration, a university, an alumni base, a fan base, to fully support these student-athletes as they go make us all proud moving forward."

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