How former Wisconsin QB Jack Coan found a grad transfer fit at Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Jack Coan hadn’t written a tweet in nearly four years.

That changed Monday night when the former Wisconsin quarterback announced his intentions to graduate transfer to Notre Dame in an unassuming way.

“Extremely thankful for the opportunity. Let’s get to work! @NDFootball,” Coan wrote.

The last tweet Coan wrote prior to that was a Jan. 10, 2017 farewell to the Sayville community on New York’s Long Island before enrolling early at Wisconsin.

“He’s probably been on Twitter more in the last two weeks than he had in the last four years,” said Rob Hoss, Coan’s former head football coach at Sayville High, “just because the college recruiting through Twitter. Other than that, he has no use for it.”

Coan doesn’t seek the limelight. That may have been easier to avoid as the starting quarterback at Wisconsin in an offense built around its offensive linemen and running game. When Coan last started for the Badgers in 2019, he played alongside unanimous All-American running back Jonathan Taylor.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly won’t necessarily be asking Coan to become the star of the Irish offense next season, but if he wins the starting quarterback job, the spotlight will follow him at Notre Dame.

“The pressure of playing at Notre Dame and the stage won’t affect him,” Hoss said. “Wisconsin’s not a small program. They played in the Big Ten Championship. They played Ohio State. They played in the Rose Bowl. They played at Michigan in the Big House.

“He’s not going to be overwhelmed by playing at Notre Dame or playing a Notre Dame schedule. He may be overwhelmed by the media presence, but he’ll handle it fine.

“He’s very steady. You’ll see when he plays too. It’s never too high. It’s never too low. It’s kind of steady Eddie.”

That experience made Coan attractive to Notre Dame. With three-year starter Ian Book departing, the Irish were left with no college starts remaining on the projected 2021 roster. Then came Coan, who started 18 games at Wisconsin in 2018 and 2019 before a foot injury derailed his 2020 season.

That injury, which required surgery on his right foot, allowed quarterback Graham Mertz to take over the starting job at Wisconsin and led Coan to seek a graduate transfer. He leaned on Hoss to help sort through the options.

Hoss went to work compiling recruiting packets for Coan with information on various schools. He broke down their quarterback depth charts, the talent at other positions on offense, the coaching staffs, the offensive schemes, the 2021 schedules and more.

When Coan was a three-star recruit in high school, Hoss went on every recruiting visit with his quarterback and helped him choose Wisconsin. This time, Hoss didn’t want to sway him in any direction.

“I can’t tell Jack Coan what to do anymore,” Hoss said. “When he’s 16, 17 and committing, it’s different. He doesn’t know right from left.

“He’s a 22-year-old man now, so now it was giving him all the objective information and at the end of the day, form relationships with talking to these guys and figure it out. I didn’t want to tell him where to go, because I didn’t want to own the end result if it didn’t work out. I wanted to guide him with objective information and let him figure the rest out.”

Hoss said Tennessee and Rutgers were the most aggressive in pursuing Coan from the moment he entered the transfer portal in December. There was also interest from other programs in the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12.

But Coan had a soft spot for Notre Dame. In high school, Coan was previously committed to coach Kevin Corrigan to play lacrosse for the Irish.

“I don’t think I had to sell him much on Notre Dame, right?” Hoss said. “Notre Dame was a dream school for him to begin with. While it worked out in lacrosse, it didn’t work out in football.

“The interesting thing is if he did go to Notre Dame, it may not have worked out the way it did with Ian being there. Who knows? At the end of the day, when Notre Dame’s season ended, and they decided this was the kid that they wanted, that kind of sold itself.”

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Coan will have to compete for the starting job with junior-to-be Brendon Clark, who finished the season dealing with a knee injury, sophomore-to-be Drew Pyne, who took late snaps in four games in 2020, and incoming freshman Tyler Buchner, who will enroll this spring.

Coan should become the favorite to win the job as long as he adapts to Notre Dame’s offense well. It’s a question worth asking after Coan played in the run-heavy offense at Wisconsin.

When Coan led Wisconsin (10-4) to a Rose Bowl appearance following the 2019 season, the Badgers attempted 351 passes and totaled 612 rushing attempts. Despite finishing the 2020 season ranked 24th in the FBS in rushing offense (211.1 yards per game), Notre Dame still was more balanced. The Irish attempted 362 passes and totaled 505 rushing attempts.

Notre Dame’s rushing total included 116 carries for 485 yards and nine touchdowns by Book, many of which came from scrambles on passing plays or sacks. That kind of production likely won’t come from Coan. In his 19 appearances as a sophomore and junior, Coan rushed 76 times for a net of negative 11 yards and five touchdowns.

“He’s never going to be confused as a dual-threat,” Hoss said of Coan. “But coach Corrigan’s not scholarship-ing him at Notre Dame if he doesn’t have the ability to move, right? He’s a lacrosse kid.

“There’s no doubt, the way he’s been coached and the way he’s done things is to sit in that pocket as long as possible. Can he get you a first down here and there with his legs? Yeah, it’s just not the way he plays, though.”

Coan operated a spread offense in high school and rushed for 2,041 yards and 28 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Sayville. He also set Long Island career records in passing yards (9,787) and touchdown passes (128).

“He’s not a burner,” Hoss said. “He’s probably like a 4.8 kid, right? He’s athletic enough to make plays with his feet, but it’s not what he’s going to be known for.”

Where Book may have looked to escape the pocket early, Coan will continue to look for options even with the pass rush bearing down on him.

“Jack will sit in the pocket until the last possible minute, stay on his reads and deliver the ball as opposed to maybe Ian pulling off his read a little sooner because he is so athletic and run,” Hoss said. “It’s two different ways to skin a cat.”

Like Book, Coan doesn’t turn the ball over much. Coan completed 236 of his 339 passes for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns with only five interceptions in his 14 starts in 2019.

“He protects the football, makes great decisions and is able to process information really fast,” Hoss said. “I’ve coached a lot of quarterbacks over a lot of years. They just don’t have that processing speed like Jack.”

Hoss worked out with Coan on Sunday and plans to work out with him again this Thursday and Sunday. Coan, who returned to practice with Wisconsin late in the season, has recovered well from his foot surgery.

“He’s been great. It’s been a huge confidence boost for him,” Hoss said. “Last Sunday when we worked out for a little over an hour, every drill we went through his foot was good. He felt really strong. Even his dad texted me, ‘Jack is so much more comfortable now that you put him through that ringer.’ He’s excited about where he is physically right now.”

Just don’t expect Coan to share that excitement over social media. Though Coan has a reserved personality, Hoss said that shouldn’t impact his ability to connect with his teammates at Notre Dame.

When Coan was preparing to take over as Wisconsin’s full-time starting quarterback before the 2019 season, Coan ate lunch with a different teammate every day to get to know them.

“So when it comes to going out of his comfort zone and being social with his team, he’ll be phenomenal,” Hoss said. “But as far as social media or a kid who wants limelight, he’ll run so far from that. He wants nothing to do with it.”

Quarterback Jack Coan scored five rushing touchdowns in his Wisconsin career.
Former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan will bring experience to Notre Dame’s offense, but he will be leading an offense that’s not as run-heavy as Wisconsin’s.