Jack Coan wins Notre Dame starting quarterback job with hard work and consistency
SOUTH BEND — Maybe Notre Dame’s coaching staff and players prepared talking points for the announcement of Jack Coan as the starting quarterback for the Irish.
Or maybe the Wisconsin grad transfer really has been that consistent.
The consistency scouting report started with the written statement from head coach Brian Kelly on Saturday that declared the end of the quarterback competition among Coan, sophomore Drew Pyne and freshman Tyler Buchner.
"All three quarterbacks distinguished themselves in the spring and preseason camp," Kelly tweeted. "Clearly, each has the skills necessary to lead, but Jack proved to be more consistent and therefore, going into our opener, gives us the best chance for success.”
Unsurprisingly, the messaging from offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was very similar when he spoke to reporters following Saturday’s practice, the seventh of preseason camp.
“We wanted to make sure that the three guys competing all had ample opportunities to go out there and perform,” Rees said. “All three have done things at a high level that give us the feeling that we can win football games with them. The differentiator there at the end was just the consistent level of performance with Jack.”
Even graduate senior wide receiver Avery Davis, who began his Notre Dame career as a quarterback, started with consistency when asked about Coan.
“He’s consistent as there is,” Davis said. “Every single day he’s coming to work. He’s staying in The Gug (Guglielmino Athletics Complex) later than anybody I know.
“He’s watching the film. He’s constantly studying. He’s hitting us up, ‘Hey, you can do this different.’ Not to say that the rest of the quarterbacks’ work ethic isn’t there, but the work ethic paired with the experience and him being the same guy every single day, that gave him the upper edge.”
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Coan credits that work ethic to his father, Mike, who runs a landscaping company on New York’s Long Island. Coan always wanted to replicate his father’s blue-collar attitude, and that’s easy for him to do on the football field.
“I love football and everything that comes with it,” Coan said. “So as much as I can do with football, I'm going to do it.”
Yet Notre Dame needs more out of its starting quarterback than a love for the game, experience and consistency. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Coan displayed all those things at Wisconsin, where he started 18 games in 2018 and 2019.
A foot injury sidelined Coan for his senior season last year, which eventually led him to the transfer portal and a commitment to the same school he was once pledged to as a lacrosse recruit. The decision to come to Notre Dame wasn’t difficult for Coan, but judging what exactly the Irish were getting in him was a bit more of a challenge.
Notre Dame could only learn so much about Coan from afar during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Kelly and Rees pushed for Coan to fill a need on the Irish depth chart. They knew a lot about Coan. He showed his mettle as Wisconsin’s starter for a 10-4 season in 2019 in which Coan completed 236 of his 339 passes for 2,727 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.
But Kelly and Rees didn’t know everything. Since arriving at Notre Dame, Coan surprised Kelly with his arm strength and athletic ability. Coan finished his Wisconsin career with minus-11 rushing yards, despite rushing for 2,551 yards during his career at Sayville High in West Sayville, N.Y.
"We knew we had a kid that was smart and tough from that perspective," Kelly said Thursday. "So the arm strength and the ability to run were a bit more than what we had bargained for, and we're happy for that. And then coming into the preseason camp and even this summer he’s been a really good leader.
"Our guys respect him and really follow him. That’s really hard to do when you’re only here for a very short period of time as a transfer. Really (he) has done more than a lot of us had even expected. So very pleased with what he’s done."
Coan’s arm strength and athletic ability weren’t a high priority for a 2019 Wisconsin offense that featured 2,003-yard rusher Jonathan Taylor in the backfield. Even if Coan didn’t show those things at Wisconsin, he was confident those abilities were in him. He admitted to being a bit banged up during some of his starts.
Coan was able to let it rip during the spring and summer with the Irish and put himself in a position to be the starter this fall.
“I've always believed I could be a great player,” Coan said. “There are such great quarterbacks here that have helped me so much throughout this process, so I have to give a lot of credit to them.”
That includes Pyne, with whom Coan was splitting No. 1 reps early in camp. Coan described Pyne as a great friend. Rees showed gratitude for how Pyne handled the news of losing the starting job.
“No conversations like that are easy, but it speaks volumes to who Drew is,” Rees said. “His response is ‘This is going to push me to continue to get better, and I'm going to support whoever's playing. I'm going to be there for them, but I'm going to continue to push myself to get to where I want to be.’
“That speaks volumes to Drew, how he was raised, his mentality. He's a special kid.”
Rees knows from experience that Pyne’s time could come at any moment. He will prepare him to be ready the same way he’s pushed Coan since his arrival at Notre Dame.
“He definitely coaches very hard on the field,” Coan said of Rees. “I saw that from day one, even in the meeting rooms. He kind of told me that it’s going to take a little while for him to get to that level.
“I was like, 'There's no need. I feel comfortable. I'm ready to go. I can take the hard coaching. That’s all I wanted.'”
Apparently consistency is the product of hard coaching, hard work and welcoming teammates. The demand for dependability goes both ways. The proof will be on display in the season opener at Florida State on Sunday, Sept. 5.
“We’ve helped him out on our end,” Davis said, “because we’re not like, ‘Screw you. You just got here.’
“It’s more like, ‘What do you need? How can we make this play better? What do you need for us to do to make this play work?’
“On both sides it’s open communication. If we need to do something or if I’m not on my stuff, I expect him to say that. I expect him to keep me in check, because that’s what we have to do. We have to hold each other accountable.”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.