Several weeks ago, in an airport coming back from covering a Penn State road game, I ran across a well-known college football figure who knows a lot about the Northwestern program.
It's my belief Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is the best choice to someday succeed Joe Paterno, so I asked this guy point blank: Would Fitzgerald leave his alma mater if PSU came calling?
The man, who I won't name, let out a sly grin and said, "Absolutely."
He's certain of it because he believes Fitzgerald understands exactly where he's at and what the limitations are at Northwestern. Deep down, the man pointed out, Fitzgerald knows he can only do so much with that program.
At some point, we discussed, Fitzgerald will grow tired of all the restraints he has to deal with at Northwestern. Restraints like averaging less than 30,000 fans per game, which the Wildcats have done each of his first four years there.
Fitzgerald, 35, is an outstanding young coach who maximizes his players' talents and already is proving he can win at an institution that places great value on education. Northwestern graduated 97 percent of its football players in the most recent NCAA study, leading the Big Ten ahead of second-place Penn State (90 percent).
Note from Giger
People are taking shots at this story because the source is not named, but I can assure you it is someone with great knowledge of the Northwestern program.
We had a lengthy conversation about Fitzgerald, and everything in this story comes straight from the guy's mouth. He just didn't want it attributed to him because, obviously, some of the comments don't exactly paint Northwestern in the best light.
Now, that's not to say he knows for a fact that Fitzgerald would leave. Only Fitzgerald knows that. But this man knows the situation very well and believes that Fitzgerald would if offered the PSU job.
Fitzgerald signed a seven-year contract extension in 2009, paying him $750,000 a year through 2015. Penn State doesn't want to pay JoePa's successor an egregious amount, but it could double Fitzgerald's current salary with ease.
Northwestern will have a very good season every so often, but even then it will play third fiddle in its sports market to Chicago-area teams and Notre Dame. The rest of the time, when the Wildcats are 8-4 or 7-5, they will be an afterthought.
Penn State is never an afterthought, and by coming to Happy Valley, Fitzgerald could enjoy being the state's top dog in college football.
Loyalty is one thing, and by all accounts Fitzgerald is deeply loyal to his alma mater.
But reality is another thing. Getting a huge raise and coming to a program with a great tradition and tremendous facilities would give Fitzgerald a chance to compete for national championships, not merely compete for attention like he does now.
As the man in the airport predicted, Fitzgerald's loyalty to his alma mater would not prevent him from jumping at the chance to coach Penn State.
SUBHD: Go with Bolden
Rob Bolden is the future of the PSU program, not Matt McGloin, so the true freshman should start at quarterback Saturday.
McGloin is a feel-good story, but let's not get carried away here. Michigan's defense is awful, and Bolden or any other capable quarterback could have exposed it.
All things being equal between the two, go with the guy who has the greater upside, and that's Bolden. If he struggles, then give McGloin a shot.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.