Former national-championship winning QB offers a peek into Bama dynasty, stint with FSU
Jake Coker is now a few years removed from his 2015 national championship winning season at Alabama. After a short-lived attempt to play in the NFL, Coker hung up his cleats for good. Now, he has made peace with that decision and finds himself writing new, somewhat foreign, chapters to his own story. Even though he has moved on from football, he still enjoys looking back at the unbelievable memories it has given him.
Q: What is life like for Jake Coker now?
A: Well, I’m over at BXS Insurance at BancorpSouth, selling commercial insurance in Mobile. I got engaged last November (2017), so that’s really exciting. I’m actually getting married in February.
Q: Congratulations! That might be the biggest story for you yet, huh?
A: Oh, yeah! Things are definitely moving fast. I’m just trying to keep up.
Q: Speaking of moving fast, I’ll bet high school probably flew by for you like it does for us all. What was the recruiting experience like for a young kid at Saint Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama?
A: Oh, it flew by for me, too. The whole recruiting process was a little bit different for me than some of these other guys because I didn’t get my offer from Florida State until I was almost a senior in high school. Shortly after that, Alabama started calling. I was told by Jimbo (Fisher) that they were taking one quarterback, and if another quarterback committed before me then I would lose my opportunity. I jumped on it, and I felt like a commitment was a commitment, so I wasn’t going to change it after I made that commitment. So, it didn’t matter who offered me after that because I was with Florida State. I went there and really enjoyed it. You know, things just didn’t work out, but I transferred to Alabama and everything worked out for the best.
Q: What was Jimbo Fisher like upon first meeting him?
A: He’s a lot different when meeting your parents and recruiting you than he would be on a football field. He’s real personable and just a good guy. He’s an animal on the football field, that’s for sure. I enjoyed my recruitment. Jimbo was the kind of guy I wanted to play for.
Q: Of course, you transferred to Alabama in January of 2014 to play for Nick Saban. What are some of the similarities or differences you noticed between Saban’s and Fisher’s coaching styles?
A: Actually, almost everything on the operational side is the same. At Alabama, the resources were far beyond what Florida State had at the time. As far as their coaching styles, obviously, one is focused on offense and the other on defense. They’re both very hands-on. Jimbo is probably more animated than Coach Saban. He was coaching the quarterbacks every play, so I spent a lot of time with him, kind of like how Saban is with defensive backs. You definitely hear Fisher’s voice more at an FSU practice than you hear Saban’s at an Alabama practice. Still, both guys are pretty vocal.
Q: At UA, your quarterback coach was none other than Lane Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic, who seems to always keep his name in headlines. What was he like?
A: Oh, Kiffin was definitely a different kind of coach than I ever had. You were always hearing some kind of story or something going on. It was crazy, just the hype that was all around him. He put guys in the right position and allowed us to make a lot of big plays. I think he did a good job. He was something else though. It was a whole lot of fun.
Q: You transferred from FSU with the hopes of becoming the starter at Alabama, but Blake Sims ended up winning that position in 2014. What was your mindset that year, and how did that affect you going forward?
A: I came into Alabama right after having a knee surgery when I left Florida State. I get to Alabama and have to have that same knee surgery again, not because of a botched first attempt or anything. It just didn’t work the way it was intended to work. It just felt like it was one obstacle after another. It was a frustrating year for me, for sure. There were times when I was pretty angry about what was going on or how I didn’t get the job done like I was supposed to do. I just didn’t make it happen. For the next year, I just started thinking that I only have one more year. I’ve got to make this work. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I probably should have relaxed a bit and realized it’s also about having fun, but I got to do that my senior year in 2015. It was a struggle mentally for me though that first year, just because you don’t want to let your hometown down and there was a lot on my shoulders.
Q: Having the pressure of wanting to make your hometown and the entire Alabama fan base proud must have been a daily battle. How did you block out that pressure?
A: You just got to go out there and play. There’s noise, but you just have to avoid it, go out there and play, and see what happens. I think it effects everybody to a certain point, but I think I was good at blocking it all out. I didn’t hear too much that was going on other than the headline stories because it’s all in your face. I didn’t have Twitter or Instagram or any social media, and just went out there and tried to play and have fun.
Q: Did any former Alabama quarterbacks serve as a sort of mentor to you?
A: John Parker Wilson reached out to me. He’s a really great man. He told me if I ever needed anything to just let him know. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him for doing that. I think he’s a great guy.
Q: One of the traits I always found interesting about you is that you would never shy away from contact. Did lowering that shoulder into defenders ever get you in trouble with Saban?
A: Nah, I think he liked it. It did get me in trouble when I separated my throwing shoulder against LSU. So, after that I didn’t lower that shoulder anymore, but I just always felt like hitting is part of it. People talk about QBs being so fragile, but I was bigger than most of the guys trying to tackle me, outside of the defensive linemen. I always just felt like a football player playing quarterback, and contact is part of being a football player. I enjoyed it, and I think the team loved it as well. I loved the contact. I loved challenging somebody head up and winning that battle and waking up the next morning hurting and knowing you won that game. It’s just part of football to me, and I loved it.
Q: Where did that toughness come from?
A: I grew up with an older brother, older sister, younger brother, younger sister, and I’m one of the youngest out of all my cousins. Plus, my older brother beat the crap out of me, too, so I was used to getting run over and trampled and stomped by the rest of the family, so I think that was a big part of developing that no-quit mentality.
Q: Another mentally tough guy you got to meet and play against was Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in the 2016 National Championship Game. Was Watson the best quarterback you ever faced?
A: Yeah, I think so. I’m surprised he wasn’t the first QB taken that year. He left a year after me, but I thought he was unbelievable. He was accurate and had great anticipation. Obviously, he’s athletic. Yeah, Watson had to be the best one.
Q: How did preparing for a dual-threat guy like Watson differ for your team than previous games?
A: I never had to watch film on him because I studied the defense, but on the defensive side of the ball, they had to prepare for a dual-threat guy. That’s never easy, anytime you play someone that can run and he is also accurate and a high IQ guy. It doesn’t matter who you’ve got on defense, you got to make plays, and it’s hard to cover guys who consistently make plays at the QB position.
Q: One of the most electrifying plays in that national championship game was a 53-yard touchdown bomb to O.J. Howard on the first possession of the second half. Can you walk us through that play?
A: We actually ran that play in the playoff game previously against Michigan State. It was a tough route combination for defenses to pick up on. They rolled coverage and the corner and safety had a big miscommunication. I just remember getting the snap and thinking, before the play even happened, that I’d be looking to see what the corner would do. Nobody picked him up really, and I remember letting go of the ball before O.J. had even turned around. I was just begging him to turn around and see the ball, see the ball, see the ball. He turned around just in time, caught it, ran it into the end zone, and my heart has never beat harder than after throwing that touchdown pass. It was just unbelievable.
Q: When you took that final knee to send the clock to zero, what feeling did you experience knowing you had just helped Alabama win its 16th national championship in a 45-40 shootout?
A: Relief. That game was definitely the most stressful I have ever played in. It was just nonstop madness. We’d score, then they’d come back. Clemson was the only team we played all year that I felt like didn’t quit once. I think Florida was a close second, in that regard. That Clemson team was just relentless, and I think that’s a trait of Dabo Swinney. It felt like the game was never over, no matter how many times we scored. We were up by two possessions at the end, and I was still nervous they were going to pull something off or recover that onside kick. It wasn’t over until we took a knee.
Q: You won two national championships at two different schools, FSU and UA. How do you look at each of those rings now?
A: The one at Florida State meant a lot because I love those guys, and some of those guys will actually be in my wedding. I have some really good friends from that locker room. But when we won the one at FSU, I wasn’t the starter, and I already knew I was transferring to Alabama. I wanted to win one at UA because I grew up a huge Bama fan, and it was a dream of mine. I just wanted to win one that was mine, though obviously it’s not just mine. But it’s different winning one as a starter than as a backup. To win one as a starter was just something I had to have. The first one with FSU just showed me how bad I really wanted it.
Q: You are someone who fought through adversity to defy the odds over and over again. What advice would you give a kid in high school who is facing his own obstacles in an attempt to also make it big?
A: I’ve always said that if you keep working hard and are doing the things you’re supposed to be doing and even know you are inside, the result might still not be what you had imagined. Just like how I signed with FSU and thought that is where I would play my whole college career and win a national championship, but then I transferred to Alabama and won one there. What I did was just bust my rear every year, nonstop. I was always working my rear off. The result wasn’t what I pictured to begin with, but in the end, it all paid off. At least you can have respect for yourself if you work hard enough and take things the right way. Just put everything you have into it. It might not result in what you wanted, but it will be something you respect and appreciate. H&A