Things didn’t go well for Northwestern on Sunday afternoon in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Yet by the time the Wildcats walked off the field at SHI Stadium following their 24-7 season-opening loss to Rutgers, Northwestern interim coach David Braun was very relieved.
After a tumultuous offseason involving a hazing scandal that ultimately led to the ouster of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald, the season is finally underway.
“This is the lightest I’ve felt since I took over, just from a standpoint of we’re playing football,” Braun said, via ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.
“It’s an opportunity to look around, look at these guys. They’ve been working so hard to get to this point. Are there plenty of things I need to work on that are very apparent that I’m taking notes on as the game goes? Absolutely. I need to be so much better in this role and look forward to being much better. But in terms of the heaviness of it, if anything, it was a big relief to get to gameday.”
Fitzgerald was fired in July after an investigation into hazing allegations within the football program. The school is facing several lawsuits from former players who alleged that they were hazed when they were playing in Fitzgerald’s program. The investigation into the hazing — which was described as “vile and inhumane” by a former player — said it didn’t have “sufficient evidence” to prove that Fitzgerald or any of the football staff knew of the hazing allegations.
Fitzgerald was initially suspended for two weeks, but the school then fired him three days after he was first suspended. Braun, who was the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State last season before he was hired at Northwestern, was then promoted to the team’s interim coach for this season.
While Braun was happy that the season is finally underway, the Wildcats struggled for much of the game Sunday afternoon. Quarterback Ben Bryant threw two interceptions, and the Wildcats didn’t score until there were just 19 seconds left in the contest. That saved what would have been their first shutout loss since 2019, though the program hasn’t won a game in the United States since October 2021. Northwestern had just 12 rushing yards as a team.
The Wildcats will take on UTEP next week.
"At the end of the day, it all comes back to me," Braun said, via ESPN. "I'm excited to look at the film and see where I can be better. We've got enough talent on this team. People are going to tell us otherwise, but we've got enough talent on this team to go win football games. There's going to be no excuses or explanations."