John Coatta ’53, MS’59 played quarterback at Wisconsin from 1949 to 1951. He set the Big Ten Conference season pass completion percentage record (64.2%) in 1950 — a mark that he held until 1976 — and led the 1951 Badgers to a 7-1-1 record. He entered the coaching ranks as an assistant with Florida State in 1959 before returning to the UW as an assistant in 1965. But it can be pretty hard to follow a legend (does anyone really remember Andrew Johnson?). Such was the case for John Coatta in 1967, when he took the head coaching reins from legendary coach Milt Bruhn, winner of two Big Ten Championships and two, albeit losing, appearances in the Rose Bowl in the 1959 and 1962 seasons. During his three-season head coaching stint at Wisconsin, Coatta compiled a 3-26-1 record and didn’t win a game in his first two seasons.
But I refuse to let a few bad bounces of an oblong sphere define a person. Coatta continued in coaching for another decade before he and his wife, Jean, returned to Madison in 1980. They purchased the Machinery Row building on Williamson Street just off Lake Monona in 1980 and formed the Seven Js, Inc. corporation (named for John and Jean and their five children: Janet, Jeff, John Jr., Julie and Jay). The building quickly became and continues to be a recognizable Madison landmark. For many years, it had several first-floor tenants, including the U.S. Postal Service, while the second floor was warehousing. After growing extensively outdated by the mid-1990s, John and Jean and their son Jeff conducted an extensive renovation in 1998 to keep the building up and running, and it’s now home to more than a dozen Madison businesses. Coatta passed away in 2000, but Machinery Row remains in the family and is now managed by his son, Jeff, who no doubt is following a legend with flying colors.