Coan’s transfer an example of college football’s growth, to his and Notre Dame’s benefit

Jack Coan
Notre Dame Athletics
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Jack Coan did not know for sure he wanted to transfer to Notre Dame when he decided to leave Wisconsin after four years, but he knew enough to be sure he considered the Irish, even before he heard much from them. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had a Playoff semifinal to worry about, one led by the all-time winningest starting quarterback in Notre Dame history, so courting Coan was not atop his priority list when the former Badgers starter announced his transfer intentions in December.

But Coan knew Ian Book was heading to the NFL, anyone could see the Irish lacked a clear 2021 starter, and he had considered South Bend nearly a decade ago when he first committed as a lacrosse recruit, so Coan was content to wait for Rees’ season to end.

“I was definitely talking to a few other schools for a little while,” he said Saturday after Notre Dame’s fourth spring practice. “Coach Rees basically didn’t want to reach out to me until after the season was over. He told me he was trying to focus on beating Alabama in the Playoff. After he reached out to me, I took a day or two with my family to discuss it.

“Previously, we were thinking that Notre Dame might come in, so we were doing our research before that, as well.”

Coan needed just three days after the Irish semifinal loss to make official what was clearly a good fit. He wanted a larger platform with a clear path to a starting role for his final season, and Notre Dame wanted an established quarterback who would keep them in New Year’s Day contention for a fifth straight year. This player autonomy may be an increasing aspect of college football, but in Coan’s case, it required no second-guessing.

“It just gives players different opportunities to play where they want to play,” he said. “And have a chance to play. For me, personally, I’m extremely thankful to be able to play for two amazing programs now in Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Not many people get to say that.

“It just opens doors for new opportunities and getting to meet new people and new coaches, learning new systems.”

By finding a quarterback with a season-plus of starting experience in the Big 10, Rees also added some veteran savvy to a quarterbacks room entirely lacking it. Coan has started more than twice as many games (18) as the rest of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks have attempted collegiate passes (7). If that is an odd way of comparing them, it is only because comparing his 437 pass attempts to their seven would be so drastic as to lack any context.

That disparity is why it is easy to assume Coan will start on Labor Day Eve (in 153 days). The logic to his transfer also supports that assumption; while Rees and Irish head coach Brian Kelly assuredly would not make a promise to start him, they just-as-assuredly laid out the facts of the position for Coan before he committed his final college season to them.

“I just felt like it was time for me to move on (from Wisconsin) and go to a place where I thought it would be a good opportunity for me,” he said.

There will obviously be adjustments, new receivers to work with and new schemes to understand, not to mention the nominal competition to win against rising sophomore Drew Pyne, but most of that is similar enough to Coan’s time in Madison so as not to worry him. Receivers come and go as is the cyclical nature of college football; Coan was already competing a year ago with Graham Mertz before Coan’s foot injury cut short the duel; the schemes are not all that different.

“In both offenses, there’s a bunch of similar concepts, a bunch of similar plays with just certain receivers, certain routes that are different here than they were there and things like that,” Coan said. “Then as far as differences, I’d say, here it’s a little less huddling, a little faster pace, and I’d say probably a little more balanced as far as passing and running the ball.”

Anyone who has watched both Wisconsin and Notre Dame the last few years recognizes the exact items Coan references. Both run traditional, drop-back offenses dependent on a physical line clearing the way for a power running game. The Irish just do so a bit more prolifically than the Badgers.

When it comes to an on-field comparison between the two of them, the storyline of Coan facing his old team in September is too obvious to ignore, but he does, for now.

“I’m not really focused on that or anything. I mean, after the first night I said I was coming here, I was getting questions about that. It’s crazy, I wasn’t even in school yet. For now, just trying to focus on getting better.”

There was once a time, not that long ago at all, when Coan would never have been allowed to transfer to a school on the Badgers’ schedule for a few seasons to come, let alone one on their schedule the very next season and it be a season in which Coan is eligible. That time is more and more a relic of the past, fortunately so for players looking for opportunities like the one Coan has found at Notre Dame, one he first dreamed of long ago.

“Growing up, I was actually a Notre Dame fan, and like many of you probably know, I was committed here for lacrosse. Now, I think the main reason for that was because I wanted to come here and watch some football games. So it is pretty cool, it worked out, everything came full circle.”