Jack Coan, former Sayville QB, keeping NFL dream alive with latest chance in XFL
Nearly 2,000 miles from the football fields where he became a local legend, Jack Coan took to the turf at the Alamodome in front of a crowd of 24,245. His parents were among them, having flown in from Long Island, as were some fans toting a "Sayville Loves You, Jack" sign and cheering him on so loudly that he could clearly hear them during the game.
It wasn't just any game for Coan, though. It was the first game for his San Antonio Brahmas in the rebooted XFL, as well as Coan's first game as a starting quarterback in more than a year.
"I haven't had that much fun in a long, long time," Coan told Newsday a few days later. "It brought back a bunch of feelings, excitement, things like that that you get when you're playing again. It makes it feel like all the hard work's worth it."
"Hard work" may be an understatement after what Coan has endured in the last year. Interview after interview, workout after workout with teams, only to get passed over in the NFL Draft. Signing a rookie free-agent deal, only to get cut a few months later. In-season workouts for more teams, only to get rejected by each of them again.
That's a lot for any player to go through, much less someone who turned 24 in December and is trying to find his way in the pros after a solid college career at two major programs.
Now Coan has found a home in the XFL, with his eyes set on returning to the NFL — and he's using his past tribulations to help guide his journey back.
"I think that experience in the NFL has helped me out a lot and made me a better player than I was in college," Coan said, "and I think I'm going to continue to grow and get better as a player in this league as well."
Coan holds nearly every major passing record in Long Island high school football history, including career marks in passing yards (9,787) and passing touchdowns (128) and the single-season passing yards record (3,431). He won the Hansen Award as Suffolk County's most outstanding player in his senior season in 2016, led Sayville to the Long Island Class III championship in 2015 and was a three-time Newsday All-Long Island selection.
Coan accepted a scholarship to Wisconsin. As a junior, he threw for 2,727 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions in a run-heavy offense and helped lead the Badgers to an appearance in the Rose Bowl. He broke his foot before the 2020 season, and with heralded freshman Graham Mertz behind him, Coan elected to transfer.
He enrolled at Notre Dame for a graduate season, and in an offense more suited for his passing talents, he threw for 3,150 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His last game was a 509-yard, five-touchdown effort in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma in which he set game records for passing yards and pass attempts (68) and tied the mark for passing touchdowns.
That game gave Coan some momentum as he began preparing for the pros. In between attending the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, participating in his Pro Day at Notre Dame and interviewing with prospective teams, he returned to Sayville to work out with his high school coach, Rob Hoss, and current Sayville players and coaches.
“This is the place that really made me who I am," Coan said last April. "They do a great job of preparing me here. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
But when draft weekend arrived, his name went uncalled. Nine quarterbacks were selected ahead of Coan, including Brock Purdy, "Mr. Irrelevant," who went from the final pick of the draft to starting in the NFC Championship Game for the San Francisco 49ers.
Coan signed a rookie free-agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts in the hours after the draft. At first glance, it seemed like a good fit. The Colts had a quarterback-friendly coach in Frank Reich and a veteran mentor in starter Matt Ryan.
But Coan found himself mired behind Ryan, Nick Foles and Sam Ehlinger on the depth chart during training camp. He played in a few preseason games, going 10-for-19 with a touchdown and an 83.4 passer rating, but was waived on Aug. 29 as part of the team's cutdown to 53 players. He later landed tryouts with the Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins, but nothing stuck.
Still, Coan came away from his rookie season all the more wiser. He said he learned a lot from being in the Colts' quarterback room and watching how Ryan and Foles handled themselves every day.
"Just seeing the way they carry themselves, the way they approach a game mentally and physically and the mental aspect of the game, learning an NFL offense and all the ins and outs of it," Coan said.
And as tough as it was to get cut, Coan found a silver lining.
"I feel like I've learned a bunch about the process, too," he said. "What it's like to be cut, what training camps are actually like, just how rosters are set up — things you don't necessarily know as a rookie coming in."
That doesn't mean Coan doesn't have a fire lit in himself after everything that happened.
"There probably is a bit of a chip on my shoulder," he said. "But at the end of the day, I just try to take it one day at a time. I believe everything happens for a reason. It'll all work out no matter what happens."
A NEW START
A few months later, the XFL came calling. The league, which had shuttered after five weeks in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was rebooted thanks to a new owner. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson partnered with ex-wife Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital to buy the league from WWE's Vince McMahon. Johnson saw the XFL as "a league of second chances" in which players such as Coan could get a chance to revive their careers.
Coan was assigned to the Brahmas on the second day of the XFL Draft. He had to battle for a job in training camp but managed to beat out Jawon Pass and Reid Sinnett to become the starter. The Brahmas are 1-3, with all three losses by one score under the XFL's new scoring system.
Jack Coan's stats in the XFL
Passing yards: 625
Passing touchdowns: 5
Completion percentage: 57.9%
Passer rating: 79.3
*-through four games
"That's really what the XFL is all about — for guys like Jack Coan to get the reps, to get the experience, to get the live bullets when you're out there," Brahmas coach Hines Ward, a former star receiver for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, said of Coan after their Week 2 win over the Orlando Vipers (a game in which Coan threw for 165 yards and three touchdowns). "And he's loving every moment of it."
AN NFL RETURN?
Nobody from this iteration of the XFL has been signed by any NFL teams yet. But past players have.
Take former Carolina Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker. Like Coan, Walker was an undrafted free-agent signing by the Colts in 2017. He bounced on and off the team's practice squad for two years before being released for good in August 2019.
Walker then joined the XFL's Houston Roughnecks, amassing a 5-0 record and leading all quarterbacks in passing yards (1,338) and passing touchdowns (15) before the league's shutdown in 2020. Since then, Walker has played in 15 NFL games (including seven starts) for the Panthers, with a 4-3 record, 1,461 passing yards and five touchdown passes. He was non-tendered on Wednesday and is a free agent.
"It was a lot of guys who just really wanted that opportunity to get back into the NFL," Walker wrote in The Players' Tribune of his time in the XFL. "Guys there were on a mission. And that was our bond. We were all on a mission. And I loved that."
Ward said he's already fielded calls from NFL scouts about players on the Brahmas' roster, though he didn't mention any names in particular. He said he told his team at the beginning of the season that his goal is to get 20% of them into the NFL by the end of the year.
"We have some guys that have been there already," he said. "I think we can get 10 guys on an NFL roster."
Maybe Coan will end up being one of those 10. But for now, he's focused on the task at hand: making the most of his opportunity.
"There's a lot of super-talented players in this league," he said. "It's a great opportunity for everyone to showcase what they can do and continue to play the game they love."