Northwestern’s football season began under a hazing scandal that led to the firing of former head coach Pat Fitzgerald, but it ends with a berth in a bowl game in Las Vegas and a new permanent head coach in the person of David Braun.
Braun, who was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator in January, found himself in the spotlight when Fitzgerald was fired by Northwestern over the summer.
Now, after a seven-win season and a new contract as the team’s full-time coach, Braun is blown away by the journey so far in Evanston.
“A whirlwind, a challenge, joyful, exciting, confusion, frustration at times, but it’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “It’s been an opportunity to grow a lot and be really proud of how this group of 103 guys found a way to galvanize, come together and fully showcase who they are this season.”
Braun said another thing that stood out to him was how the team responded to its early season struggles, with losses to Rutgers and Duke putting them on the map.
The team responded with some great comeback victories, including an epic one against Minnesota in Evanston, and showed the character that Braun had observed throughout his tenure as interim coach.
“A lesser team could have packed up and said, ‘You know what? The season is not ours,” he said. “They could have come up with all kinds of excuses and explanations to explain why we are not going to have the season we want. That’s what What exceeded my expectations was how this group continued to respond in the face of adversity.
As for his own journey, Braun said his big break revealed how important a focus on relationships with players has been to his growth and success as a coach.
“What I’ve learned about myself is that I feel like I have a unique ability to focus on what really matters and what’s important, and to focus my decision-making on these things, and at the end of the day, he’s our student. -athletes,” he said. “Every decision I made, I tried to put it at the forefront of my thought process.”
Now that the Big Ten will expand to 18 teams in 2024, Braun looks forward to the new obstacles the Wildcats will face, and he relishes the challenges ahead.
“I’m really excited to be at the forefront of this and lead us into a very unique time in college football,” he said. “A changing landscape in the Big Ten, a rapidly changing landscape across football, and really rooted in the values of Northwestern and Northwestern football, while being open-minded to the things that we need to evolve and change to compete in a new era.