Rose Bowl Football

Former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada (AP file Photo/Nick Ut)

Nick Ut

Update, 7:45 a.m. Wednesday

LSU hired Matt Canada away from the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday, a source told The Advocate. He will be introduced at a 1:30 p.m. news conference. Read the full story here

Original story

Pittsburgh’s Matt Canada and LSU officials had "productive" meetings Tuesday, and the Tigers are close to a deal to hire the coach, FoxSports.com reported Tuesday night.

Canada, the 41-year-old Indiana native, spent the day in Baton Rouge meeting with coach Ed Orgeron and others at the LSU football facility, multiple sources confirmed to The Advocate, and he continues to be the top target to land the offensive coordinator position.

Canada, known for his versatile, misdirection offense, would replace interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, who will remain on staff in some capacity, Orgeron has said. The hire would end a coordinator search that spanned more than two weeks as Orgeron waited on his top target, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin, a good friend of Orgeron and LSU’s No. 1 candidate for the gig, landed the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic on Monday, sending this search into Plan B. The program deeply vetted three other candidates: Canada; former Southern California and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, now an offensive analyst at Alabama; and ex-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.

Canada emerged as the most serious candidate, The Advocate reported Sunday. 

In Canada, LSU would get a seasoned offensive coordinator who in his first year at Pittsburgh this season 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.

Canada was one of five finalists this year for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s best assistant coach.

Pitt players raved about Canada’s coaching style and creativity. He’s not afraid of trick plays, either. For example, one Pitt offensive lineman has scored two touchdowns this year, and his tackles routinely shift before the snap, swapping sides.

Canada holds a physical philosophy in running the football, but he uses misdirection, shifts and motions out of various formations to employ a power ground attack — similar to concepts that Ensminger employed this season. Canada described his offense in the same way Orgeron this season described the offense Ensminger ran after replacing the fired Cam Cameron four games into this season.

“We run the same plays over and over, just with different variations, from different formations,” Canada said. “People always ask, ‘What kind of offense do you have?’ 'An offense that scores points.' That’s what I tell them.”

The Tigers (7-4) begin practice Thursday in preparation for the Citrus Bowl against Louisville (9-3).

Canada has served as offensive coordinator at five schools since 2010, including North Carolina State (2013-15), Wisconsin (2012), Northern Illinois (2011) and Indiana (2007-10), his alma mater. Over the years, his offensive identity has changed. He's led pro-style schemes and run-first spread attacks, too.

His offenses are historically balanced, with a strong run presence. They're not necessarily prolific through the air. Out of his 11 seasons as a Football Bowl Subdivision OC, just one unit has finished inside the top 30 nationally in passing yards a game (Indiana in 2010).

He's known for spreading the ball around, using multiple playmakers in an offense with presnap shifting, shovel passes and some no-huddle. 

“I think a great attribute is how multiple he can be and how he can adapt to the talent around him,” Danny O’Brien, Canada’s quarterback during his one season as OC at Wisconsin, said on WNXX-FM, 104.5 earlier this week.

He’ll have plenty of talent at LSU if he does land the gig.

Like defensive coordinator Dave Aranda last year, Canada would inherit a unit with more talent than he’s ever had in his career. Canada is similar to Aranda in that he never played college football because of a career-ending injury. A high school quarterback who was recruited by Indiana, Canada worked as a student assistant and then graduate assistant for the Hoosiers under coach Bill Mallory.

In fact, in an interview with pittnews.com in April, Canada attributed his quick ascent in the coaching ladder to that career-ending knee injury. Like Aranda, it forced him into the coaching profession earlier than normal.

“Things worked out for me,” he said. “If I would have been a down-the-line quarterback, I would have never learned as much as I did.”

He became Butler’s offensive coordinator at the age of 24 in 1997, just his second year as a full-time coach. Canada coached running backs and tight ends in previous jobs, but he has worked with quarterbacks in his last five stops.

That’s a sore spot for the Tigers.

LSU’s passing game has not cracked the top 100 nationally over the past three seasons — 101st this season, 106th in 2015 and 116th in 2014. Three different quarterbacks have started in those seasons: Anthony Jennings, in 2014, Brandon Harris, in 2015, and Danny Etling this year.

Etling, more as a pocket passer, showed some glimmer of hope at the position at times this season, but LSU’s direction at quarterback is a bit hazy. On the day he was hired, Orgeron announced that he’d like to run a spread offense equipped with a dual-threat quarterback, but the coach previously said he would recruit pro-style QBs.

Canada recruited Etling during his one year at Wisconsin in 2012. 

At N.C. State, Canada molded former Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett into one of the nation’s most efficient passers. Brissett threw 43 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions over his junior and senior seasons. Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman led the ACC in QB rating this year and had 26 touchdowns to six interceptions.

At Indiana, Canada coached two of the most prolific quarterbacks in IU history in Ben Chappell and Kellen Lewis. Chappell holds Indiana career records for completion percentage. Lewis holds the season record for touchdown passes and ranks second with 48 career TD passes.

Canada does not shy away from running his quarterback. In four of his 11 seasons as an FBS coordinator, his quarterback has run for 500 yards or more. Chandler Harnish, in 2011 at Northern Illinois, ran for 1,379 yards, and Brissett, in 2014 at N.C. State, had 529.

Canada’s contract details at Pitt were not released in USA Today’s compilation of assistant coaches salaries. Just a year ago, Canada was fired from N.C. State in a move that even surprised him, he said in interviews this past year. The firing came one year after the Wolfpack gave him a three-year extension in a contract paying him $560,000 per year.

Canada’s final unit at N.C.State averaged 33.2 points, the third-highest mark in school history.

“I was surprised,” he said in a story published earlier this month by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “(N.C.State) wanted to do something different. They obviously did. We’re where we are.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.