David Braun won't stop believing
The 38-year-old Northwestern interim coach was thrown into a chaotic situation this summer. He sits down with The Inside Zone to talk about how his path built him for this challenge.
EVANSTON, Ill. — As fate would have it, the first time David Braun saw Northwestern play was at Camp Randall Stadium.
A Wales, Wis., native, Braun was in the stands in Madison in 1996. The Wildcats’ monumental 1995 upset of Notre Dame introduced Braun and the larger college football world to what Gary Barnett was building in Evanston, and so when a buddy and his father offered Braun a ticket to the Wisconsin game the following year, the then-11-year-old took them up on their offer.
Northwestern fans surely remember that ’96 game: Eventual Heisman winner Ron Dayne fumbled while trying to run out the clock, leading to a game-winning touchdown pass from the purple-clad visitors.
“I never had a team that I rooted for in college athletics, but I was just always pulling for the ‘Cats,” Braun says amid a long conversation about his life, his year and his possible future. “There is something about the underdog and the way they did things.”
That Miracle in Madison may pale in comparison to what Braun is on the brink of pulling off at Northwestern himself.
Thrown into the fire after Pat Fitzgerald was dismissed in July as part of the fallout of a hazing scandal, Braun has guided Northwestern to a 5-5 record, on the brink of bowl-eligibility after a dominant 24-10 win Saturday at Wisconsin. The ‘Cats are favored in their home finale against Purdue — likely the last game ever at Ryan Field — and close the regular season at Illinois.
This same program, made up of most of these current players, tallied four wins, total, across the previous two years. Northwestern’s over-under for this season was three wins, and that was before the coaching change that threw everything into flux.
In stepped Braun, a 38-year-old father of two whose wife was due any day with the couple’s third child. His introduction to the larger college football world — he had zero experience at the FBS level — was through a pair of emotional news conferences at Big Ten media day in Indianapolis, when he stood behind the podium as the first voice to take questions on everything that had just happened, all of which stemmed from matters that took place before he arrived to Northwestern.
Now? It might be hard to not hire him. Heck, none other than Jack Fitzgerald — the son of the man Braun replaced — endorsed Braun over the weekend, one of many within the football program to tweet #RemoveTheTag in support of their interim coach getting the job full-time.