Notebook: Notre Dame QB Coan embraces the yelling as well as the Selking factor

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan (17) looks downfield during Thursday’s snowy spring practice as Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees coaches him up.

SOUTH BEND — How unflappable is Notre Dame grad senior quarterback Jack Coan?

He recalled this week an exchange with Irish offensive coordinator/QBs coach Tommy Rees over the headsets during ND’s 34-6 romp over Navy on Nov. 6 in which Rees’ yelling reached a new peak between them as far as intensity and coarseness.

Coan’s reaction?

“It was awesome,” he said of the one-way heated conversation.

Coan’s ability to process otherwise flustering moments with such consistency and aplomb is largely why he’s still relevant and even now ascending for the AP No. 6/CFP No. 8 Irish (9-1) heading into Saturday’s Senior Day matchup with Georgia Tech (3-7).

Notre Dame before the game (2:30 p.m. EST; NBC/Peacock) will honor Coan, members of its 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes, and one player who began his college career in 2016 — Marshall grad transfer Cain Madden, who turns 25 in five weeks.

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The 2018 class, incidentally, has lost 10 players to transfers, including Georgia Tech backup safety Derrik Allen, who returns to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since his August 2019 departure. He has four tackles this season for the Yellow Jackets.

For Coan, it’s been a short but satisfying journey since transferring in from Wisconsin last winter — despite having to share the QB duties this fall with freshman Tyler Buchner and nearly losing even that timeshare role during the week that followed the Oct. 2 loss to Cincinnati (27-13).

“Coming here I obviously hoped I could play,” Coan said of his expectations walking in the door. “But I think an overarching thing was just I hoped I could meet a bunch of new, great people and become a better player and a better person. Hopefully, win a national championship. And just honestly have as much success as possible.” 

The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Sayville, N.Y., product heads into a matchup Saturday facing the nation’s fifth-worst pass-efficiency defense among the 130 FBS teams having completed 174 of 263 of his pass attempts for 2,011 yards and 16 TDs with five interceptions. That translates to a 146.7 efficiency mark of his own.

That would place him No. 4 on the Irish career list at the moment — if ND chooses to only calculate his season with the Irish into the formula. He’d be behind only Kevin McDougal (156.7), DeShone Kizer (147.7) and Ian Book (147.0), and within striking distance of the latter two.

Should ND choose to include Coan’s Wisconsin years (145.4 rating combining both), he’d be sitting in the fifth spot, between Jarious Jackson (145.7) and 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte (144.7).   

“I’m really thankful I chose to come here and learn under (Rees), because he has taught me so much more about the game,” Coan said. “And he’s taken my football IQ and play to a different level. 

“He’s a super-competitive guy. He always wants to put his players in the best positions. He cares about his players so much. He’s a special guy, and I’m really thankful I played for him. 

“He demands the most out of us. He gets on us when we need it. (On gameday) he’s always given me great insight into what’s going on. I mean, he’ll get on me if I need it. And yeah, we always have some good conversations whether he’s yelling or not.”

Coan says composure largely came naturally to him growing up, but it’s also something he’s worked very hard on to enhance while at Notre Dame with the help of Dr. Amber Selking.

Selking has been partnering with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish football program as a mental performance specialist since just a few months after ND completed a 4-8 Kelly Era divot in 2016. That's been followed by a 52-9 run ever since.

"Amber's role is far-reaching,” Kelly said during his weekly Thursday Zoom session with the media. “And I think if you look at the quarterbacks in particular, it's (about) decluttering. It's taking away a lot of the noise, if you will, associated with the position and keeping things a lot simpler.

“And for Jack, getting that assistance and getting somebody to help him with that has been really helpful for him. Obviously, dealing with a lot of the noise earlier in the season and putting that into perspective for him, I think was really useful and helpful. And Dr. Selking was able to be very instrumental in getting him through that period of time.” 

As the sacks and the criticism have waned, Coan remains plugged into what Selking has to offer.

“I think it’s extremely valuable,” Coan said. “For me personally, I think the world of it. She does such a great job of getting us information we can use on the field. And even if a guy takes one little thing from it, it’s just going to help us that much more on the field. 

“I think she does an outstanding job, and I’m sure I’ll keep in contact with her for a while.” 

Qualifying Quinn

Coan’s recent surge has been tied to the improvement of the Irish offensive line, and vice versa.

Reconfiguring some elements of the offense, including an emphasis on tempo and quicker reads/releases on Coan’s part has factored into a line that’s finally escaped the dregs of the FBS statistics relating to O-line play (sacks allowed, rushing offense).

Fourth-year Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn became a pariah earlier this season, at least in the world of social media and message boards. Should he now get most of the credit for the turnaround? 

"I think a veteran coach in this kind of situation is the one that is needed when all kinds of criticism is being heaped on a group,” Kelly said.

“I think a coach that's probably not been in it as long as he has would maybe look towards trying to do things that were not consistent with what we're trying to achieve here. And that's patience and sticking with our process. 

“Jeff was really good at it. He was under a lot of criticism early on, not from me or internally — we knew what was going on. But the noise is out there, and he stuck with what was most important.

"That was (to) continue the developmental process of a young group, one that had a revolving door at left tackle, and one that we really didn't know what our best unit was.”

The best unit turned out to be a freshman at left tackle, Joe Alt, and a former backup left tackle at left guard, junior Andrew Kristofic, joining senior center Jarrett Patterson, Marshall grad transfer Cain Madden and grad senior Josh Lugg. 

“Veteran experience always generally is going to pay off for you if you just stick with the things that we consider to be the most important,” Kelly said, “And (Quinn) should be credited for that."

Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn before football practice, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Doubling down on Foskey

The statistical oddity in Notre Dame’s season-high seven sacks last Saturday night in a 28-3 win at Virginia was that junior Isaiah Foskey didn’t account for any of them. And his only dent at all statistically was an assisted tackle.

He heads into Saturday's game with Georgia Tech as ND’s second-leading tackler (43), its leader in tackles for loss (10.5) and its leader in sacks (9.0).

In fact, if the 6-5, 260-pound junior doesn’t get any more sacks for the rest of the season, he’ll finish with tied with Renaldo Wynn for the sixth-most in a season in school history and the most in a season at ND since Stephon Tuitt’s 12.0 in 2012.

"If you really do a deep dive on the game, Isaiah Foskey was doubled virtually the entire game, which freed up virtually the entire defensive line, and having some one-on-one opportunities,” Kelly said.

“So, I think this is probably more of what you're going to begin to start seeing — a little bit more of with a focus toward Isaiah Foskey and teams overcommitting to him, which is going to open up opportunities for other players." 

Award acrimony

The flaw in the balloting process of some of college football’s individual awards is that they become purely a study in statistics and often lacking context.

Which explains why junior Kyren Williams didn’t make the recent cut to 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, emblematic of the nation’s top running back. But it doesn’t justify why he was excluded.

Williams enters the Georgia Tech game with 872 yards on 174 carries (5.0 average) with 10 touchdowns. He also has 36 receptions for 308 yards and three additional touchdowns as well as a 29-yard kickoff return and a 10.7-yard average on 11 punt returns.

The knock: His 87.2 rushing yards per game is 40th nationally. The reality: if you watch Williams play, it’s easy to see he’s at least one of the best 10 backs nationally,  

"Certainly, very surprising,” Kelly said of Williams’ omission. “The postseason awards have been, for me, over the past five, six years, going all the way back to Quenton Nelson and the Outland Trophy, a myriad of confusing and really not sure what the criteria is anymore. 

“Look, I am very respectful for all those that have been awarded these trophies and those that have been nominated for them. Our players have seemed to have not been significant in these for some reason. You look at the schedule that we play, the competition that we play each and every week, that doesn't seem to be a factor. 

“It's disappointing. Our guys do very well moving forward, and I'm just not a big believer in how you cannot look at the entirety of your work — who we play, how we play, the consistency of our performance over the longevity and these guys not be up on these award lists. But we'll just keep playing and look for team awards then."

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI