BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
MADISON, Wis. — After getting the text message confirming the worst-case scenario — something that had been suspected in many circles — Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan called his dad Mike and let him know that the Big Ten had postponed the 2020 season.
Neither was totally surprised by last week’s development in response to the coronavirus pandemic. While the Coans were disappointed with the outcome, it finally brought a modicum of certainty to months of uncertainty.
“I was kind of going back and forth on it the whole summer,” admitted Jack Coan, a 21-year-old senior from Long Island, New York. “There were points where I was like, ‘There’s no way we’re going to be able to play.’ And then, all of a sudden, it was like, ‘I think we’re going to do it.’
“I kind of fluctuated back and forth.
“In my mind, I was always treating it as if we were going to play.”
UW head coach Paul Chryst had mapped out the options to limit the surprises.
“Every meeting we started since June, maybe even May, we talked about there’s probably three scenarios that are likely,” Chryst said. “One, we can start on time. Two, we could push (back) to kind of a delayed season and see what happens there. Or three, it gets postponed.
“Every one of us knew this was one of the possibilities.”
Upon learning of the Big Ten’s decision, Coan revealed, “I didn’t think it was a shock. But the reality kind of sets in. Things are going to be a little different this fall and you’re definitely going to miss playing.
“Practice was so much fun (Monday and Tuesday morning) with all the energy that was out there. It was kind of tough when they pulled the plug because we had gotten a little taste of it and all of a sudden it was gone. That was kind of sad.
“I called my dad, and it wasn’t anything that was unexpected … this is a tough time obviously for me, but even for him because he loves watching us play and coming to our games and everything like that. But he understands the decision …”
On Sept. 1, 2017, Mike Coan, wife Donna and their daughter Bella, then a high school senior, sat in Camp Randall and watched Jack make his collegiate debut in mop-up duty against Utah State. The gameday experience was emotional, Mike told a Newsday writer, and like a dream come true for a parent.
Prior to home games, the players are bussed to the Camp Randall Arch, where they are dropped off for the short walk to the stadium. Mike recalled Jack getting off the bus and hugging Donna and Bella and high-fiving him. It was the best feeling in the world, he confided, save for when the kids were born.
Throughout recruiting, Mike and Donna felt comfortable with Chryst and his staff — “Coach is just different,” Mike said, “and they’re really good guys, family guys” — and they were confident their son was in safe hands at Wisconsin. That trust was put to the test over the last five-plus months.
Or since the advent of COVID-19.
“We just knew Jack was okay there,” Mike said, “and was going to be well taken care of.”
From a parent’s standpoint, Mike Coan’s reaction to the 2020 season’s postponement ran an understandable emotional gamut from “a nightmare” to “pretty depressing” to a “downer” in his own words. But in the same breath he conceded, “I saw it coming.”
Not that it softened the jolt for father or son.
“Jack feels like he’s got a pretty good team this year … he was pretty heartbroken about it,” offered Mike Coan, who runs his own landscaping business in Sayville, New York. “But I know Jack and when I talked to him, I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I know your work ethic and the way you are.'”
Jack Coan was not about to feel sorry for himself.
“I’m pretty good at that naturally,” he acknowledged.
Not that the Big Ten’s action wasn’t painful for one of the most even-keeled players on the UW roster. Recognizing that some of his teammates have expressed their frustration on social media, he said, “It impacts everyone differently. But I understand how everyone feels. It’s a terrible situation.”
At the end of the day (month, year), he’s hoping the Big Ten will make something happen.
“I really hope they have a plan to play whenever it is — whether winter, spring or fall — it really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I just hope we get to go out and play.”
• • • •
Coan flew home last Thursday morning. He estimated that there were no more than 20 passengers on one of his flights. The irony was not lost on him that Wisconsin is currently one of 34 states on New York’s COVID-19 quarantine list. The travel advisory necessitates a 14-day quarantine.
“Which is weird because in the beginning, New York was the bad state (hot spot) and now it’s actually one of the better states,” he said. Early on, his uncle, Mike’s brother, tested positive. “It was definitely scary because it can happen to anyone. But it’s reassuring that he’s alright.”
Coan had a flashback to mid-March when he returned to Sayville from Madison.
“My mom was trying to warn me a little bit about the whole virus and everything, she worries about stuff like that,” he said. “When I went home, I thought there was no way that we were going to cancel spring ball. I just thought it was maybe going to be an extended spring break.”
That break lasted over two months and included virtual schooling to complete the semester and remote training. Coan found a safe place to lift and work out. And he reconnected with some old friends and threw to them when he could. “It reminded me of my days back in high school,” he said.
Physically, he attempted to take advantage of every minute of every day.
“I didn’t take any time off or anything,” he said. “If anything, I felt like I did more because I had more time. I felt like I was in really good shape. Honestly, I felt I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I had my mom’s cooking for months and she was making sure I was eating healthy.”
Interjected his dad, “This kid won’t even eat a potato chip.”
Coan got back to Madison in early June and was happy to be reunited with teammates.
“I was just super excited to get back with the guys even if we had to be socially-distanced,” said Coan, who has started 17 of the last 18 games at quarterback for the Badgers. “Working out at your own rack in the weight room, it was kind of fun to get a bunch of energy going again.
“Everyone was pretty excited once the Big Ten schedule came out (in early August) and we started practicing.”
The Badgers were divided into two groups for practices last Monday and Tuesday at Camp Randall. While the first group was on the field — the players were limited to helmets, shirts and shorts — the second group was in the weight room. At mid-morning, they traded places.
“It felt really good to be back out there,” said Coan, who was in the first group which consisted of projected starters and backups. “Even when the coaches couldn’t be with us and we couldn’t be in the facility, we were finding ways to throw and get in workouts on our own this offseason.
“It’s just a credit to our guys, how hard they worked.”
Operating behind a revamped offensive line — Cole Van Lanen and Tyler Beach at tackles, Kayden Lyles at center, Josh Seltzner and Logan Bruss at guards — Coan threw the ball free and easy downfield and with precision over the middle to a variety of receivers during the passing drills.
“I feel like this team had the best practice (Tuesday) I’ve ever seen here in five years,” said Van Lanen, the senior left tackle. “I really feel like this team is one of the best I’ve seen. We’ve had Zoom meetings now for months and months. This team is the smartest it has ever been.
“We came into practice and we had 80-plus percent of our offense in. I would swear by damn near zero mental errors. We were firing off the ball. It looked so clean. Everything flowed so well. I had never seen that before. The coaches were pumped about it, the players were pumped about it.
“It just seemed like a different team.”
Considering the mini-sample size — a couple of non-contact practices — there’s no guarantee that the high level of play was sustainable. Or will carry over to a potential winter/spring season. Nonetheless, Van Lanen made it clear, “This group has no issue with the motivation factor at all.”
During a media Zoom call, he pledged to move on his from his initial anger and disappointment.
“I know all of our hard work hasn’t gone for nothing,” Van Lanen said. “Somewhere in the future it will be rewarded for all of us. We just have to keep a positive mindset and keep going. We only can control what we can control and that is to keep working.
“We all are excited to get another opportunity …”
Momentum has seemingly been growing to start the season in January and play into March.
“As of now, I’m liking what I’m hearing on what our spring season may be,” Van Lanen said. “They say spring but in reality, it’s kind of winter and the beginning of spring. I kind of like the concept and what they’re thinking about right now. I know other guys do, too. We’re pretty pumped for it.”
Coan willingly co-signed those sentiments.
“Honestly, I’m up for anything — I think the spring would be cool — anytime would be,” Coan said. “But it would be interesting to start in the spring with it being cold and then it getting warmer. It would be like the reverse of the fall. It would be fun no matter what.”
Last week, Chryst voiced concerns about eligibility over the spring and fall of 2021.
“You know what they (the players) don’t want to do?” Chryst noted. “They don’t want to waste the year … they don’t want to waste an opportunity … I remember having conversations, ‘What is a good number (of games) that you’d say was a good season to you?'”
Responding to the hypothetical, Coan conceded, “I have no idea. I’m not going to be the one making that decision. I would hope for as many games as possible. I would like to play as much as we can.”
The thought of transferring to another school in a Power Five conference that is pushing forward and trying to play this fall did not cross Coan’s mind. “Definitely not,” he said. “I would never want to leave Wisconsin in a situation like this. I’ve never even thought about it.”
Coan needs six credits to graduate in finance and investment banking. “I could add a major and take a full class load,” he said. “Or I could take the two classes and graduate and get into the grad program. I’ve got to go over those options with my academic adviser and see what I want to do.”
Regarding the fall game plan (sans games) for the players, he said, “From what I’ve sort of heard, and nothing is set yet, we’re going to have lifting and conditioning. Also, some football-specific work, some mini-practices like the extra training practices that we had last week.
“I know Coach Chryst has spoken about doing some team bonding activities. We’ll see.”
On Chryst’s role in keeping the team united and informed, Coan said, “I feel like he’s done everything he could have to keep us safe and put us in a position to play. He communicated all the information that he had. It was open communication the whole time. He handled it great.”
In addition, Coan complimented the assistants — specifically position coach Jon Budmayr — and the strength and conditioning staffs.
In this context, Chryst has derived strength from how everyone has handled their business. “I believe in this group, and we’ll find a way to make it a productive fall,” he said. “Do I know exactly what it’s going to look like? No. But I know what our group is made of and I know what our intentions will be.
“Therefore I’m confident that we will find a way to get a lot out of whatever time we have until the next time we get to play a game.”
There are still many unanswered questions.
“When are we going to be playing next? What is the season going to look like when we do play?” said Coan, throwing out a few of his own. “We’re probably far out from knowing those answers. We have to stay patient and take it each day by each day.
“Everyone has been in touch with each other. We’re all in this together.
“We’re going to stay together this whole period of time. And we’ll all get through it.”
It was not unlike the phone conversation that he had with his pops and what they concluded.
“We know everything is going to be all right.”