Notre Dame's quarterback competition is over and the Irish are going with their veteran.
Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, who earned All-Big Ten honors in 2019 when he threw for more than 2,700 yards and 18 touchdowns against five interceptions, will get the start in the season-opener against Florida State, succeeding three-year starter Ian Book at the position. Coan beat out redshirt freshman Drew Pyne and true freshman Tyler Buchner for the position.
"All three quarterbacks distinguished themselves in the spring and preseason camp," coach Brian Kelly said in a statement announcing the decision. "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."
Coan had appeared to be the frontrunner since he transferred in from Wisconsin just days after Notre Dame's 2020 season ended and Book announced his intention to forego a fourth year as the starter in favor of departing for the NFL.
During the limited fall camp repetitions to which the media has been privy, Coan has been, as Kelly said, the most consistent of the three quarterbacks, capable of completing passes deep down the field and accurate on shorter throws. He has a bigger arm than Pyne and is much more polished than the highly-touted Buchner at this point in their careers.
"One of the things that surprised me this spring (when he started practicing with the Irish) was his arm strength," Kelly said of Coan. "He's much more athletic than people give him credit for. Those are the two things that stand out. I know he's been well-coached, he comes from a great program, (head coach) Paul Chryst does a great job at Wisconsin, so we knew what we were getting there.
"We knew had a kid that was smart and tough. 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 preseason camp and even this summer, he's been a really good leader. Our guys respect him and have really followed him and that's really hard to do when you're only here for a short period of time. He's really done more than a lot of us even expected."
The leadership is a part of the equation that likely made Notre Dame's decision much easier. Coan won a workout award from Irish strength coach Matt Balis over the summer and has reportedly fit in very well with the team, personality-wise. In addition to being the best quarterback on the field, it helps that he seems to already have the trust of his teammates.
"He's seen by his peers as a warrior, somebody that is on time for every workout, is there, is committed. You can count on them," Kelly said. "He's a guy that you want – I apologize for the analogy – but he's a guy you want lined up next to you in the foxhole, right? You can count on that guy."
The backup will likely be Pyne, who showed some flashes of arm talent and athleticism in camp and is a more accurate passer at this stage than Buchner, who is still getting acquainted with Notre Dame's system. However, Buchner is a talented runner and Kelly hinted the Irish could give thought to using the true freshman in certain specialty situations.
"It's pretty clear, he's a dynamic player," Kelly said of Buchner. "We have to make sure that dynamic player is prepared in our offensive structure, so we're not going to put a dynamic player to the side just because he's young. We want to win and dynamic players help us win, so we have to sort that out ... and see what that looks like."