Sources: Northwestern set to retain coach Braun

How David Braun earned his promotion as Northwestern’s permanent coach (0:44)

Pete Thamel breaks down the signature moment that led to Northwestern naming David Braun its head coach. (0:44)

  • Adam Rittenberg


    Adam Rittenberg

    ESPN Senior Writer

    • College football reporter.
    • Joined in 2008.
    • Graduate of Northwestern University.
  • Pete Thamel

Nov 15, 2023, 02:11 PM ET

Northwestern has promoted interim football coach David Braun to the permanent head-coaching role, the school announced 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.

“I am truly honored for the opportunity to continue leading Northwestern’s football program,” Braun said in a statement. “Over the past five months, having the chance to lead this group has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Moving forward, my mission is to build on this positive momentum, aiming to create one of the best experiences in college football for our student-athletes.”

Northwestern’s staff was informed earlier Wednesday afternoon that Braun would be promoted, sources told ESPN. A news conference to introduce Braun is set for Thursday.

“Upon his arrival at Northwestern, I quickly identified that Coach Braun embodies the values of our athletic department: respect, integrity, service and excellence,” athletic director Derrick Gragg said in a statement. “It was the right decision to appoint him as the interim leader, and I congratulate Coach Braun on being named the head coach of our football program. He has earned this position. Coach Braun has rallied the team under very adverse circumstances. He has gained the respect of the student-athletes, the staff, parents, alumni and our fans.”

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 is 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 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.