Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Consistent Coan gets the job done
MADISON - Strength can be built out of consistency and simplicity.
Jack Coan's story is relatively uncomplicated. The 6-foot-3 junior quarterback for the University of Wisconsin comes from a supportive family and thrived in a successful high school program. His approach to his work-week routine is unwavering, his distractions are minimized, his mind is uncluttered. His house is neat and tidy – metaphorically speaking.
So with a consistent arm and reliable temperament, Coan won the starting quarterback job in late August – even
though the Badgers also had a topranked national recruit, Graham Mertz, coming in.
It was a promotion that surprised only outsiders.
“Consistency was the biggest thing,” said quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr. “I was not surprised – that's who Jack was coming out of high school.
“But at the same time, you've got to go out and do it.”
Now the 5-0, No. 8-ranked Badgers know even more about Coan: He has completed 85 of 114 pass attempts (74.6% efficiency) and thrown for seven touchdowns. In a about 21⁄2 quarters against Kent State on Saturday, Coan completed 12 of 15 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns before being rested in a blowout Badgers victory.
He's steady and rarely lets his emotions show.
That's enough for the coaches and Coan's teammates, and beyond that, Coan refuses to let anyone outside of Camp Randall Stadium turn this game into a high-stress, pressure-filled business venture for him – and that tells you a little bit about who Coan is.
“There's things in this world that you should be stressing about – other than a game,” Coan said. “I went to the Children's Hospital last Friday. All these kids going through all these things – and you realize that you're just playing a game.
“Honestly, we're just out here playing a little kids' game.”
Ah, yes, but as much as Coan tries to hold on to that ideal, there are unique challenges to being the quarterback at Running Back U. So Coan chooses to focus on his role right now.
“I would say my job is just to keep the team in good situations and to get the ball in the hands of playmakers,” Coan said.
You can see Phil Simms' influence on the Long Island native. Coan has worked on throwing with the former New York Giants quarterback frequently, every time he goes back home to Sayville, New York.
“I definitely try to focus on completion percentage and protecting the football,” Coan said. “Taking shots downfield when they are there. I really want to keep the team in good situations. If I see something's there, I take it. If I don't, I move on, and I just try to trust my eyes.”
That's been the focus of his position coach, Budmayr – getting Coan to trust his footwork, getting Coan to trust what he sees. An early-season 36-yard touchdown to receiver Quintez Cephus against Central Michigan is a fine example.
Coan understood the coverage, knew where his one-on-one matchup was and dropped the way the coaches wanted, which led to great timing.
In order for Coan to be a good decision-maker, the eyes and the feet have to be tied together from film and recognition so that his timing is right.
“There's a good balance between managing a game, and being a playmaker,” Coan said. “You have to know when to take shots that are there. And when to check the ball down. And when to throw it away.”
One thing that can't be rushed is developing leadership skills – and that is something Coan is working on, without forcing anything, either.
“He comes in with a focus, making sure everybody is ready in the huddle,” tailback Jonathan Taylor said. “We trust in Jack. We know whatever he's saying that's what we need to do, because the coaches trust in him.”
Said Coan, “I'm definitely still learning. I feel like I'm really just being myself. When the team sees you being yourself, they respond to you better.
“A lot of times I will just come in to the huddle and give them the play. They know what to do.”
For Coan, this opportunity has been years in the making. The real estate major graduated from high school early and came to Madison the spring before his freshman season to jump into the football program. He vows that he has stayed away from social media to keep himself focused on the people who matter – his teammates.
He has been healthy and mostly injury-free.
When former starter Alex Hornibrook transferred out of Wisconsin after last season, Coan was ready to step in, as he could only wish his friend well.
“He was a very resilient guy,” Coan said. “No matter what happened, he was going to continue to fight back. He was a fighter. It was great to sit behind him and learn how to be a great quarterback.”
Coan strives to be mentally tough. There isn't a big, dramatic story of how he became the starting quarterback at UW. He just put in the time and the work, sticking to his steady work habits, a daily and weekly routine that never changes.
“He is constantly preparing and I think that's what frees him up on Saturday, to go out and execute at the level that he is,” Budmayr said.
“There's a lot of simplicity in him in the sense that Jack doesn't wake up each day and think who is he going to be. He is who he is and he's so confident with who he is. The simplicity to him is he's got a rhythm to his week.”