Matt Canada said the past year has been the best and worst of times in his professional career.
Canada was fired, somewhat inexplicably, at North Carolina State for what seemed to be philosophical differences with coach Dave Doeren. He spent one impressive season at Pittsburgh, earning one of five finalist spots for the Frank Broyles Award.
And now he’s at LSU, where he’s going to have more talent, more resources — and more salary; let’s not deny it — than he possibly ever could have dreamed of while napping in his office after watching too many video cut ups of last week’s game.
But Oh, Canada, you’re going to have some big expectations, too.
You’ve just planted your flag in a state full of offensive coordinators, about 4 million strong. What was it that Greg Schiano once said? Every man in America thinks he can work a grill and coach football.
Well, Matt, here in Louisiana, every man and woman thinks he or she can make a roux (you’ll find out what that is) and coach football. Same thing, just more flavorful. In all respects.
Canada tried to downplay the role his shape-shifting offensive system will have in the future of LSU football, insisting (correctly) like most coaches do that it’s players, not plays, who win games.
“Everybody in America can call plays, right?” asked Canada, proving, at least, that Schiano is right. “The players you get win you the games.”
But whether he realizes it or not, Canada is tasked with not just calling plays but changing LSU’s offense, modernizing it, taking it out of the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust era and into the era of cloud computing. The kind of offense that will attract the kind of football players who come to your campus trailing stars behind their names.
It is a monumental task, and likely one that will have someone grousing about something, no matter what he tries to do. But perhaps in this post Les Miles/Cam Cameron/Faux Lane Kiffin age, he’s just the man for the job.
It probably is troubling to some LSU devotees that Canada’s offense doesn’t have one defined style.
He’ll power-run it when he sees the opportunity and throw it when he sees the opportunity, though don’t expect LSU to become one of those programs that chucks it 50 times a game.
And what he sees won’t be apparent or obvious to every naked eye in Tiger Stadium or watching on the SEC Network. As one writer who used to cover Canada told me this week, there may come a time when fans are asking themselves, “Why did he throw it to the third-string tight end when he could have handed the ball to Derrius Guice instead?”
“He gives us flexibility to play the best player,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “He can play with a pro-style quarterback. He can play with a dual-threat quarterback. That’s what I liked about him in his interview.”
Perhaps this will turn out to be just the approach that LSU needs. This is a program that is leaving behind an offensive philosophy under Miles that fairly shouted across the line of scrimmage, “Here we come; try to stop it!” It was said around the Southeastern Conference that no one was easier to scheme against than LSU under Miles. Of Canada, it’s been said that he has no tendencies, thus making his offenses much harder to scheme against.
From obvious to unpredictable appears to be the track Orgeron has chosen for his program. It’s not much different than the way his defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, coaches his side of the ball.
“Two great minds,” Orgeron said of his coordinators. “That’s what we wanted.”
Like any play -aller, Canada will have his fans and his detractors. There are those who call him a savant at keeping defenses off balance. There are others who say he has a tendency to put his best players on a shelf and not go back to them when he should.
Chances are, whatever he runs at LSU will be an improvement over the old ways the Tigers had of trying to move the ball. How much improvement will go a long way to determining whether or not LSU can be a championship contender again, and how soon.
As for Kiffin, the assumed top target to be LSU’s offensive coordinator when Orgeron got the job long-term, now the new head coach at Florida Atlantic, Orgeron denied the assertion that he was miffed at his old friend for not coming to Baton Rouge as expected.
“He wanted a head job,” Orgeron said. “He got one. I’m happy for him.”
Some will fault Orgeron for not landing the splashiest hire, who would have been Kiffin, or for hurting Alabama, which it may or may not have done if Kiffin was indeed done at Alabama.
But it’s easy to make the argument that Orgeron has with Aranda and Canada — O, Aranada? — the best pair of coordinators in the country going into 2017.
“With what coach Canada brings and the leadership that coach O provides,” Aranda said in his quietly confident, measured tone, “we’re going to be good.”