Northwestern is set to promote interim football coach David Braun to the permanent head-coaching role, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.
Braun, hired in January as defensive coordinator by former coach Pat Fitzgerald, has led Northwestern to five wins, more than the team’s combined win total from the past two seasons (four). He is the first Northwestern coach to win five games in his first season since Walter McCornack in 1903.
Northwestern’s staff was informed Wednesday afternoon that Braun would be promoted, sources told ESPN. An official announcement is expected by Thursday, and a news conference to introduce Braun could happen that day, sources said.
The school named Braun as interim coach on July 14, four days after it fired Fitzgerald in the wake of hazing allegations against the program. Northwestern would be the first FBS school to hire a new head coach this season.
Sources told ESPN that the search committee for Fitzgerald’s successor, which included athletic director Derrick Gragg and several trustees, had been impressed not only with the team’s on-field performance amid adversity but also with Braun’s approach with the players and in news conferences.
Braun, who grew up near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had never been a college head coach or worked at an FBS school before Fitzgerald hired him following four seasons as North Dakota State defensive coordinator. The Winona State defensive lineman made stops at his alma mater, UC Davis and Northern Iowa before joining the North Dakota State staff in 2019.
He has called defensive plays for Northwestern and seen the unit improve substantially, going from 82nd to 46th in points allowed and from 62nd to 29th in yards allowed. The Wildcats have allowed just 16.8 points per game in their past five games.
The Wildcats could become bowl eligible with a win over Purdue on Saturday or at Illinois on Nov. 25.
Northwestern considered external candidates, including some veteran FBS head coaches but focused on Braun in recent days. After Northwestern’s 24-10 upset win at Wisconsin on Saturday, a number of players went on social media and posted the hashtag #removethetag, referring to Braun and the interim head coach tag. Among those who posted was Jack Fitzgerald, a freshman tight end and the oldest son of Pat Fitzgerald, who has been working as a student assistant with the team this season.
More than a dozen former Northwestern players have filed lawsuits against the university, alleging that they were hazed and mistreated while in the program. Last month, Fitzgerald filed a $130 million wrongful termination lawsuit against Northwestern and university president Michael Schill, alleging that the school broke an oral agreement by firing him three days after agreeing to a two-week suspension following the university’s investigation into hazing allegations.
Northwestern is set to respond to Fitzgerald’s lawsuit in the next few weeks.