Northwestern AD Derrick Gragg being reassigned; search for successor underway

After three tumultuous years as AD, Gragg’s primary responsibilities will lie in the expansive, ever-evolving realm of NIL, with a focus on fundraising.

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Derrick Gragg

Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg at a men’s basketball game at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg is being reassigned to the new role of vice president for athletic strategy, the school announced Thursday. A search is underway for the Wildcats’ next AD, with Gragg to remain in the role until his successor takes over.

After three tumultuous years as AD — during which longtime football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired amid a hazing scandal that rocked the college football world — Gragg’s primary responsibilities will lie in the expansive, ever-evolving realm of name, image and likeness. That means growing the NIL stockpiles for football and men’s basketball, primarily.

“Derrick has been an asset to Northwestern over the last few years, and our athletics department has achieved some remarkable accomplishments under his leadership, both on and off the fields of competition,” president Michael Schill said in a statement. “In addition, after an investigation found hazing in our football program, Derrick helped us recover and set the stage for a new era of excellence.”

The alleged hazing that led to Fitzgerald’s undoing happened before Gragg’s time, but the botched handling of the matter by Gragg and Schill before and after an explosive Daily Northwestern report last year was embarrassing and plain to see.

After an internal investigation — but before the allegations went public — Northwestern’s plan essentially was to slap Fitzgerald on the wrist with a brief, meaningless suspension that wouldn’t involve missing any games. In barely a blink of an eye later, though, Fitzgerald, the university’s most visible and popular figure, was out of a job and widely disgraced.

Gragg’s silence throughout those uncomfortable days, and in the equally difficult weeks that followed, was deafening. No matter if Gragg was advised and/or ordered not to speak publicly about his department’s deep troubles — which also included the dismissal of baseball coach Jim Foster after allegations of bullying and other misconduct — his invisibility did heavy damage to his reputation and led to speculation that his own dismissal might be inevitable.

Instead, a new role awaits him. Northwestern isn’t characterizing it as a demotion, but there’s no other way to take it.

There has been notable athletic success at the school during Gragg’s time. Then-interim football coach David Braun had such unexpected success, he became Big Ten coach of the year. The men’s basketball team made back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament, and seven conference titles were won during the 2023-24 school year.

“It has been an honor to serve as Northwestern’s athletics director,” Gragg said in a statement, “and I am proud of what we have accomplished together. … I am looking forward to my new role amid this new era for college athletics, and I am committed to ensuring that Northwestern’s tradition of excellence, on and off the field, continues.”

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