For Canada, it all goes back to Indiana

Pitt, LSU and North Carolina State called. Wisconsin and Northern Illinois did, too.

Since leaving Indiana in conjunction with the end of the Bill Lynch era in 2010, Matt Canada’s coaching career has been a winding ride of starts and stops, broken records and quick departures.

It’s all led to this, his first head coaching assignment, albeit one that’s on an interim basis amid trying circumstances.

At Maryland, Canada has guided the program since former coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11 in the wake of offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death from heatstroke. Durkin was eventually fired last week during a bungled administrative process, leaving Canada in charge for the remainder of the year.

Now, after a trying string of events, Canada and the Terps have an opportunity to do something remarkable. Even after the tragedy surrounding McNair’s death, the infighting at the university and the directional uncertainty of the program’s future, Maryland is only one win away from clinching bowl eligibility.

And after a circuitous few years in Canada’s life, the longtime offensive coordinator has a chance to secure a bowl trip at the same stadium where he first cut his teeth.

“His career is like all of ours,” said former IU assistant Steve Stripling, who is now coaching the defensive line at Cincinnati. “It’s bounced around a little bit and those kinds of things, but it all goes back to Indiana.”

Canada was a decent high school football player. That is, until his knee gave out.

A knee injury suffered during his senior year at New Palestine dashed whatever hope Canada had for playing college football. Instead, he enrolled at Indiana University with coaching in mind.

As a student assistant on Bill Mallory’s staff in the early 1990s, Canada did the grunt work typical of the position. He worked long hours, handled tape and filed paperwork, doing whatever was asked.

“As he did a good job, he got more and more responsibility and he was allowed to coach the quarterbacks,” former IU defensive coordinator Joe Novak said. “He would be there and assist in any way he could. As he went on, he got more and more responsibility.”

That’s how one of college football’s better coordinators got his start — as an IU kid eager to please. Of course, Canada’s role grew far beyond fulfilling the menial tasks at Memorial Stadium.

When Novak left to become head coach at NIU in time for the 1996 season, Canada was still climbing the first few rungs of the coaching ladder as an offensive graduate assistant at Indiana. By 1997, he landed his first coordinator’s gig at Butler.

“When he went to Butler, I followed his career,” Novak said. “I had a running back job get open and I reached out to Matt and he accepted it readily and came up with us (in 1998). A year or two later, a quarterback job came open and we moved him and slid him over to that. Shortly after that, he was our offensive coordinator. Everywhere he’s been, he’s continued to impress and do a good job and moved right up the ladder.”

He’s done so at quite the pace.

When he returned to Indiana as quarterbacks coach in 2004, it marked the beginning of a seven-season run in Bloomington — his longest to date at one stop.

Since leaving IU after Lynch was fired following the 2010 season, Canada has been all over the college football map. He spent the 2011 season at Northern Illinois, then took over Wisconsin’s offense in 2012. The gig with the Badgers lasted only one season after then-coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas after the year.

That put Canada at NC State, where he lasted three seasons until his firing after the 2015 campaign. His next stop was Pitt, where Canada was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant.

The Panthers set program records for total points (532) and points per game (40.9), while leading the nation in red zone touchdown percentage (82 percent) during his lone season in 2016.

“His offenses look very complicated, but they’re not,” Novak said. “They’re really pretty simple. He does a great job at the window dressing: motions, shifts — he’s moving people around all the time. He’s running the same basic plays, but you can’t zero in on them ahead of time because he’s doing them in different ways. He’s very good at that. He did a great job with Pat Narduzzi at Pitt doing that.”

The one season at Pitt helped him land the offensive coordinator job last season at LSU, where things didn’t go as smoothly. Canada and LSU coach Ed Orgeron butted heads, and the school agreed on a reported $1.7 million buyout of Canada’s contract after the season.

After looking for a new job late last year, Canada found one under Durkin at Maryland. But as the university dealt with the fallout from McNair’s tragic death stemming from an offseason workout, Durkin’s job quickly became Canada’s in August.

As he dealt with the uncertainty and a team in need of a rudder, Canada did what he has always done, according to those who know him.

“When he went through the situation at LSU, we talked quite often,” Stripling said. “He was just saying, ‘I’m doing the best I can. I’m doing my job.’ I think it’s that level-headedness that, with the Maryland situation, has helped him persevere through that. We text back and forth and I just can’t imagine what it’s like trying to keep everything together with all that going on.”

Yet, Canada and the Terps have done exactly that, staying on track amid the storm.

After opening the season with a win over Texas, Maryland has teetered back and forth. There have been lopsided losses and commanding victories — enough of the latter to put Maryland on the verge of bowling as Canada makes his homecoming to Bloomington this weekend.

“It’s about our players and those things,” Canada said of his return. “I came back when I was at Wisconsin a few years ago and that was a different time with some of the players that I knew still on the team. Certainly have fond memories of everything that is that place, from Coach Mallory to Coach (Terry Hoeppner), to all the players and guys I know.”

And securing a season-defining victory over Indiana on Saturday, after everything Maryland’s program has endured in recent months, might provide Canada with even sweeter memories of his former home.

“That would be something,” Stripling said. “To keep them all together like they have has been unbelievable.”

4 comments

  1. Play RT at qb. IU betting odds slight favorite however IU is not covering spreads this season especially recently.
    Or usually IU has one convincing win per season. Is this that game? Just for lack of excitement and not being bored out of ones mind play RT at qb if nothing else.

  2. Who was the AD when Lynch got fired?

    Just thinking this through, if Maryland chooses not to retain Canada as their head coach after this season, and IU needs a new OC, there might be a good fit there. But you have to wonder if Canada, who has a lot more experience coaching college football (INCLUDING A WIN OVER TEXAS), would want to work for a less experienced TA? And you have to wonder if Canada would risk being swept out of a job again if IU makes a coaching change within a year of coming back to Bloomington? But maybe Fred Glass, who is very cheep and therefore prefers to promote and/or hire Coordinators for IU’s head coaching job, will find Canada the perfect candidate when he concludes that T.A. isn’t going to lead IU to a “break through.” I could see it now: Glass hires Canada to be IU’s Assistant Head Coach and OC (that title justifies paying him more than if he was just the OC). A year or two later, when Glass fires T.A., he just slides Canada into the head coaching job. Glass would justify that by saying the following: 1) Canada is from Indiana and an IU alum, 2) with “successful” coaching experience at IU and at least 12 (or 13) games experience as a head coach, and 3) he wouldn’t have to go through the humiliating process of having coaching search agents (i.e., head-hunters) remind him of all those good candidates (like Seth Litrell) that would not even consider coaching at IU, and 5) he could give Canada a big raise while still assuring that IU’s head coach would remain the lowest paid head coach in the Big Ten (which seems to be important to Glass). Based on Fred’s criteria, it looks like Canada is the best possible candidate to be IU’s next head football coach. It’s just a matter of time.

  3. Paradigm shift: since IU football is what it is and T.A. is a special kind of guy
    1. guarantee T.A. a long term contract.
    2. hire Canada and guarantee him a long term contract.
    3. Both, equal in terms of length from when Canada was hired.
    4. Make both T.A. and Canada Co Head Coaches.
    5. T.A. Defensive head coach.
    6. Canada offensive head coach.
    7. F.G. Rt our his pocket book.

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