O’Donnell: Purple carousel spins on as Northwestern names interim AD

ONE YEAR TO THE DAY since Northwestern University abruptly fired head football coach Pat Fitzgerald — July 10, 2023 — the dust is nowhere near settled on The Enchanted Lakefront.

Beleaguered university president Michael Schill has further stoked that haze by naming Pat Goss — the school's respected director of golf and player development — as “Interim Senior Deputy Director of Athletics.”

Goss replaces Derrick Gragg, who was swept into the new position of “Vice President for Athletic Strategy” by Schill last month.

In an interdepartmental statement obtained by The Daily Herald, Schill said, “We plan to announce members of the search committee and the search firm we are engaging. The search committee will work expeditiously to recruit and hire our next AD … to ensure the incoming athletic director reflects Northwestern's values and goals.”

WHEN GRAGG WAS HIRED as AD by past president Morty Schapiro three years ago, he inherited a department that was no stranger to scandal.

Events were greatly ratcheted up last summer when allegations of hazing — still not provably linked to Fitzgerald — induced Schill to fire the coach. Gragg had only a peripheral connection to that decision.

He was accountable for the hiring of baseball coach Jim Foster, who was also poleaxed amid allegations of mistreatment of student-athletes and staff last year.

Gragg came to NU from a post as the NCAA's senior vice president for inclusion, education and community engagement. That job followed turns as athletic director at Tulsa and Eastern Michigan.

AS FOR NORTHWESTERN'S HAZING MATTER, no fewer than 25 former student-athletes have sued the school alleging actionable offenses.

In turn, Fitzgerald has filed suit against NU seeking $130 million for wrongful discharge, future salary contractually owed and other related issues.

The dual-sided onslaught has left university attorneys in the precarious position of potentially attempting to argue that both sides are invalid.

Some legal experts have suggested that sweeping settlements are likely the quickest way out for university administrators. Any case that goes to trial would likely produce unprecedented public discovery regarding the innermost workings of Northwestern athletics and finance.

GOSS, A NATIVE OF CRYSTAL LAKE, has been associated with NU since 1991 as a player, coach and links overseer. He's best known around major starting tees as a teacher who has been periodically cited as one of “The Top 100 Golf Instructors in the World.”

His most prized pupil has been Luke Donald (NU '01, art theory), who was the top professional golfer on the planet in 2011.

With Goss continuing as one of his coaches that season, the young Englishman became the first pro to be earnings leader on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour in the same year.


Sunday's Grant Park 165 once again flirted with staging disaster. A rainy two-hour delay resulted in a drop of 1 million viewers on NBC from the 2023 inaugural's average of 4.8M. A notably rough optic was the appearance of Mayor Brandon Johnson in a jaunty NASCAR pit outfit on a long and lethal holiday weekend in the city of Chicago (107 shot, according to the Chicago P.D., 19 fatally). …

Former St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina (2013-21) — a lifetime educator who gave up his Guaranteed Rot season tickets after more than 30 campaigns last winter — responded to Sunday's “The brokenhearted lament of a battered White Sox fan”: “I will take my grandson to one game this year and then go to a second on someone else's dime.” 'Nuff said. …

The pioneering of the Cubs with “an all-female broadcast team” of Beth Mowins, Taylor McGregor and Elise Menaker Sunday came off without a hitch. Plus, the Wigglies beat the Angels, 5-0. Tom Ricketts still has problems to address with his balky Marquee Sports Network. (And fabled director Arne Harris would have caught the theme and featured more random “handsome guy” shots.) …

Longtime fans of pro soccer in the region are lamenting the passing of Howard Balson. He was broadcasting games as far back as Willy Roy and the 1967 Chicago Spurs (NASL) and also worked the Sting's landmark 1-0 win over the NY Cosmos in Soccer Bowl '81. Booth mates over the years included Kenny Stern, Mike Leiderman and Bill Hazen. Balson was 91. …

And Scott Hipple, on news that Virginia's Colonial Downs will be hosting yet another “Arlington Million” on Aug. 10: “Maybe Arlington Heights can counter by holding a 'Thomas Jefferson Festival' at Eucild and Wilke.”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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