Matt Canada began in the coaching profession making $5,000 a year as an assistant at Butler and, for extra money, he hung banners for Budweiser at the Indianapolis 500.
He just landed the million-dollar job of running LSU’s offense.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron hired Canada away from the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday, tapping a 44-year-old Indiana native known for a variable, unpredictable offense that reminds some of Dave Aranda’s defense.
Canada is expected to receive a three-year contract worth more than $1 million a year, a source confirmed to The Advocate. He will remain with Pittsburgh for the next two weeks and coach in the Panthers’ game Dec. 28 in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“Well, when you talk about big days in your life…” Canada started his opening statement Wednesday in front of a room full of reporters. “I'm humbled beyond belief that he called me. I was blown away that I was extended an offer.”
Just a year ago, North Carolina State fired Canada in a move that even “surprised” him, he said. Now, he’s in charge of an offense in college football’s best conference, turning a breakout season at Pittsburgh this season into one of the country’s highest-paying assistant coaching positions.
“This has been, professionally and personally, the best and the hardest year of my life,” Canada said, his fiancée, Erin Buchanan, Orgeron and Aranda watching from beside the stage.
This is the high point, a dream job that many coaches never obtain.
It’s the pinnacle, so far, of Canada’s winding career – one that began as a student assistant in 1992 at his alma mater, Indiana. It’s weaved across the Midwest to Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and down to N.C. State.
This will be his sixth offensive coordinator job in eight seasons, but none of them were as successful as the last – his one-year stop at Pitt.
He shaped the Panthers into the highest-scoring offense in school history. They averaged 42.3 points a game, ranking 10th nationally, and were the only team to beat Clemson, scoring 43 points in that victory. Pitt capped the year scoring 56 and 76 points on Duke and Syracuse, respectively, and his quarterback led the Atlantic Coast Conference in QB rating.
Orgeron describes Canada’s system as “creative” and his play-calling as “great.” After his top target took a head coaching job (Lane Kiffin), Orgeron whittled a list of about a dozen coaches down to three finalists: Canada, former Southern Cal and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, now an offensive analyst at Alabama, and ex-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.
Canada was the only one brought in for an interview, Orgeron said, and it “didn’t take long to offer him the job,” he said. That happened Tuesday night after the two spent the day together at LSU’s football operations building. They buried themselves in film.
“I watched his game against Clemson, and he coached every position,” Orgeron said. “He explained every formation – why he did it, what the defense was doing, what’s the next call, what went wrong. I think he put 43 points on a pretty good football team.”
The program had to fight for Canada, Orgeron said. He turned down three Power 5 coordinator gigs over the last few days, FoxSports.com reported Wednesday.
“His phone was ringing for major universities yesterday. Other major universities wanted him to come. He wanted to be here,” Orgeron said. “It was coming on strong, very strong. Last night, there were several other major universities that wanted him.”
He chose the Tigers, and Orgeron thinks he’ll stay, too.
“This is LSU,” he said. “Once you get here, once you eat a bowl of gumbo, you’re done.”
“We plan on being here for a long, long time,” Canada said.
Matt Canada didn't a waste any time contacting one of most important pieces to LSU's 2017 re…
It wasn’t always so merry for this man.
Last December, N.C.State head coach Dave Doeren fired Canada. It came only a year after the school signed him to a new three-year contract with a salary of $560,000. Canada’s final unit at N.C.State averaged 33.2 points a game, the third-highest mark in school history.
“What happened there is irrelevant,” Canada said Wednesday. “I have answered the question. I was surprised, and I didn't see it coming. We were third in the league in scoring, but people make changes and I'm very, very fortunate that change was made because I'm standing here talking to you right now.”
Canada is in charge of razzing up an offense that skidded into an unbalanced mess over the last several years. He’ll need to jump start a position, quarterback, that’s tumbled to mediocrity.
He’ll do it with a system that, he says, is predicated on players – not scheme. It’s not a pro-style offense or a spread attack, and he can use a pocket passer or a dual-threat player, he said. His scheme is most known for its presnap shifting, constant motion, multi-formations and misdirection runs.
The shotgun, the pistol, the I-formation and one-back – Canada does it all. Three tight ends, five receivers, a fullback – he does those, too. A power run up the gut, a jetsweep to the outside and even some shovel passes thrown in – that’s how he operates.
This won’t be any pass-crazed system either. Canada holds a physical football mentality.
“We believe you got to run the football,” he said. “Running the football is a big deal. So we're going to run the football, but how we're going to run is dictated on our players, and (what the) defense does too.
“Coach (Orgeron) mentioned it: We are going to shift a little bit and we are going to move. We're going to change the tempo. We're going to do everything we can do to give ourselves an advantage to be offensive. We're on offense. It's called offense for a reason.”
It’s being billed as an attacking unit, cloaked in unpredictability, like the defensive unit Aranda installed this year.
“What Coach Canada brings and the leadership Coach O provides,” Aranda said Wednesday, “we’re going to be good.”
Forget scheme, though, this is about scoring points, Canada preached, and winning games. Specifically, it’s about winning one game. He managed during his 22-minute news conference to mention the program two states over that holds a six-game winning streak over the Tigers.
Asked about his scheme in the SEC, Canada shot back, “Well, I'm 1-0 at Alabama. Northern Illinois. We beat Alabama in 2003, so, I guess I'll go with that. Huh?”
No, Canada isn’t the shy or sheepish type.
He raised his tone at times during the news conference, his voice booming through the fifth floor of the LSU athletics administration building. He called running back Derrius Guice a “really good perk” to his new gig and touched on the sorest subject among the fanbase – quarterbacks.
He’ll recruit the best quarterback, he said, with no specific type in mind.
“We’re going to find the best player that we can who's a winner, who is a student of the game, who's accurate,” he said.
“He can play with a pro-style quarterback. He can play with a dual-threat quarterback,” Orgeron said. “That’s what I liked about him in his interview.”
Already, Canada has reached out to recruits. He spoke to St. Stanislaus quarterback Myles Brennan on Wednesday. Brennan, the 10th-ranked pro-style QB in the 2017 class and a longtime LSU commitment, announced two weeks ago that he was reopening his recruitment.
“Had a great talk with Coach Canada,” Brennan tweeted on Wednesday. “Will make visit in January to meet face to face. #geauxtigers”
Matt Canada said the past year has been the best and worst of times in his professional career.
Canada’s work with quarterbacks is extensive. A high school quarterback himself, he began coaching that position from the very start.
Twenty years ago, he landed his first big job – a promotion from receivers/quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator at Butler at just 24 years old. He pulled in that $5,000 salary and leaned on his former wife, Michelle, then a pharmaceutical sales rep, to carry the family financially.
For extra cash, he hung Budweiser signs at the Indianapolis 500. Why do it all? He answered that Wednesday.
“I’m just a ball coach,” he said. “I don't have any fancy name or anything else. I love coaching ball.”