Editorial: Northwestern’s David Braun deserved to be Big Ten Coach of the Year

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Amid the flameout of the Chicago White Sox, the Bulls’ horrific start, the Bears’ continuing allergy to winning and the Blackhawks suffering yet another scandal involving off-ice conduct, there’s been one cheering story to remember.

That’s David Braun, who began this year as Pat Fitzgerald’s new defensive coordinator at Northwestern University, was tapped on an interim basis to coach the team after Fitzgerald’s firing, and led the Wildcats to a wildly improbable 7-5 record and a bowl berth.

Braun deservedly had the interim tag removed two weeks ago, and days ago was honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Have yourself a year, David Braun.

Braun’s accomplishment goes far beyond his team’s record. There were questions about whether Northwestern’s football program ought even to continue following the disturbing disclosures of hazing that destroyed Fitzgerald’s coaching career.

Simply focusing the team on the task of competing in football games, let alone winning them, amid such controversy was an incredible feat. But the turnaround isn’t tied just to competently running a football program under such circumstances.

It’s easy to forget: Under Fitzgerald, the team won a grand total of four games over the past two years.

Braun’s personal story is a heartwarming one. On sports talk station 670 the Score, Braun spoke earlier this week of how he moved his young family to Chicago, thinking in part that working for a coaching icon such as Fitzgerald would provide more job security than virtually any other such post in college football.

Life, the apt saying goes, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Sudden uncertainty just as Braun’s family was settling in and his kids were enjoying their new schools wasn’t ideal. Anyone who’s encountered a sudden roadblock in life — so, pretty much everyone — can marvel that Braun’s determination, focus in the face of massive distractions, and ability to inspire his student — athletes won the day.

Fitzgerald’s dispute with NU over what he’s owed per his contract will linger on.

But how refreshing that when the topic of Northwestern football comes up, we think now of qualities such as resilience, fortitude and teamwork. Not dehumanizing locker room rituals.

Coach of the year, indeed.

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