Pat Fitzgerald on off-field life, Facebook 

March, 8, 2010
I was on Twitter on Monday morning and noticed this Tweet from coachfitz51 (Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald):

2 Days until we shave our heads for St. Baldricks Foundation-help raise awareness and money by sharing this link!

It dawned on me that this is exactly the type of news people like seeing this time of year. Fitzgerald is just one of 13 Northwestern staff members who, along with 13 Wildcats players, will be shaving their heads for this cause. The St. Baldrick's Foundation uses the donations to fund more childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the United States government.

I called Fitzgerald to ask him about how he got involved with the project:

"Being Irish-Catholic, and on the eve of St. Patrick's Day, I was sent some information on it last year," he said. "Then I saw some things online and I felt it was something that [wife] Stacy and myself would embrace, and my staff jumped on board.

"When you see little people inflicted with such a traumatic experience, it's hard not to really want to do something for them. It's really just a symbolic gesture to those little guys and little girls who are going through a really tough time."

Fitzgerald explained that the Wildcats, by shaving their heads, were hoping to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer research in much the same fashion as cancer walks and related events.

"To know that 160,000 children around the world are diagnosed with cancer every year, that's staggering," he added. "In the United States, cancer kills more children than any other disease -- more than AIDS, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis. Stacy and I have young boys, and we've had friends and family members afflicted with this, so it's really something that made sense to us.

"We tried to raise awareness to the team. We said, 'Hey, as a coaching staff, we're going to be part of the St. Baldrick's event. If any of you guys would like to be a part of it, please sign up.' And right away we had 13 players sign up. It's a pretty cool deal to see those guys jump on board."

Of all the things the 35-year-old coach has accomplished already at his alma mater -- which includes winning 17 games over the past two seasons -- it's off-field acts such as this that make him smile the most, he says.

"We're closing in on 800 hours in the last calendar year of community outreach," he says. "We had a team GPA of 3.0 in the spring and 2.98 in the fall quarter. And every quarter last year we had over 50 players with above a 3.0. This last quarter we had 54. Guys are doing a really good job, and I'm proud of them for that.

"We just gotta keep trying to work hard and keep trying to improve our program [with] what we're doing on the field, but I think more importantly the way we're developing our guys, and how they're buying into what we're doing off the field, is what we're most proud of."

For more on St. Baldricks and how this amazing foundation got started, go here.