This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installment:
No. 15: Rod Smith, Illinois
Who: Matt Canada, Maryland
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: LSU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2017)
Why he’s important: The man with a country in his name has become a man without a country of his own. After breaking into coaching as an undergraduate at Indiana, Canada became a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1994-95, then returned to Bloomington in 2004 as quarterbacks coach and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007. He left after the 2010 season and has coached at six schools in the past eight seasons: Northern Illinois (2011), Wisconsin (2012), NC State (2013-15), Pittsburgh (2016) and then last year’s LSU stint, a shotgun marriage that ended in abrupt divorce, with Canada (through his lawyers) agreeing to walk away with half the money he was owed simply to go work somewhere else.
Just look at the praise (tongue planted firmly in cheek) Orgeron gave Canada after a regular season finale win over Texas A&M:
“Everybody wants to be a head coach. I hope he gets an opportunity to get it.”
Canada shopped around for head coaching jobs, pursuing the Rice job that went to Mike Bloomgren and the Louisiana-Lafayette gig that Billy Napier landed, before finding a position at Maryland on Jan. 22.
Now installed at Maryland, Canada takes over a Terrapins offense in need of direction but dripping with potential. Remember, Tyrell Pigrome opened 2017 as the starter, hitting 9-of-12 passes for 175 yards with two touchdowns while running for another 64 yards and a touchdown before he was lost for the season to a torn ACL in the second half of the Terps’ 51-41 upset at Texas. True freshman Kasim Hill entered as Pigrome’s replacement, nursing home the Texas win and leading a blowout of Towson before he was lost for the year to another torn ACL in Week 3. Maryland alternated between its third- and fourth-string quarterbacks for the rest of the year, but the die had been cast on the 2017 season at that point and a 2-0 start sputtered to a 4-8 finish.
But none of that matters now. Pigrome and Hill are healthy once again, and whoever wins the job will pair with Ty Johnson to create one of the most dangerous backfields in the sport. Johnson led the nation in yards per carry in 2016 (minimum 100 carries) with an absurd 1,004 yards on 110 attempts — 9.13 a pop — and six touchdowns. He followed that up by compiling 875 yards on 137 carries (6.39 per carry) in 2017 — without a running threat next to him in the backfield.
Maryland also returns its entire starting offensive line, creating the perfect mix for the misdirection and multiplicity that made Canada a sought-after coaching talent in the first place.
“Before, they were fast all the time and more spread. We will use our tight ends a little bit more,” Canada told BTN in April. “I don’t want to get too much into it. We want to run the football. And we will do what everyone does: Try to get the best players on the team the ball. We want our best players to be in position to make plays.”
Maryland fired Ralph Friedgen in 2010 when the 63-year-old Terps alum refused to retire — after a 9-4 season in which the club won the Military Bowl and finished No. 23 in the AP poll. In the seven seasons since (including two under Durkin) Maryland has not won as much as eight games and reached seven only twice — and has since moved into one of the most stacked divisions in college football. Maryland opens with Texas — the Longhorns were a top 15 scoring defense after the Maryland game in 2017 — makes visits to Ann Arbor and Iowa City in a 3-week October span and closes with Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in three of its final four games.
Outside of the Texas game, this is Maryland’s life now. The Big Four aren’t going anywhere, ever.
Durkin is an accomplished, respected coach on both defense and special teams. Those two sides of the ball should be good under his watch. With Canada in place and a dynamic backfield healthy and ready to go, Maryland is primed to rocket forward in 2018.