The wait for Lane Kiffin has ended, and the LSU football team has quickly shifted its focus to Plan B: Pittsburgh's Matt Canada.
Kiffin, the Alabama offensive coordinator and the top target in LSU's search, was hired Monday as head coach at Florida Atlantic, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said — sending LSU coach Ed Orgeron to his backup plan.
Canada, a 44-year-old Indiana native, has emerged as a serious candidate for the position. LSU officials are expected to meet with the coach early Tuesday, setting up a potential announcement soon, a source confirmed to The Advocate on Monday night.
LSU deeply vetted three candidates behind Kiffin: Canada, former Southern California and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian (now an offensive analyst at Alabama) and ex-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.
LSU's offensive coordinator search has been in wait-and-see mode over the past two weeks as Kiffin hunted for head coaching jobs following three seasons at Alabama. He was a finalist at Houston before the Cougars promoted offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, a Baton Rouge native. He was interested in South Florida before the school chose ex-Texas coach Charlie Strong.
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A potential deal between Kiffin and FAU reportedly fell through Friday night, but talks reignited. Kiffin reportedly took a significant pay cut in hopes of rebuilding his stock as a head coach.
Florida Atlantic, a Conference USA school, is expected to pay him about $1 million per year, ESPN reported. Kiffin was set to make $1.4 million this year at Alabama, and a deal with LSU likely would have paid him more than that. ESPN reported that Kiffin will remain with Alabama through the College Football Playoff.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron sought Kiffin above all others for the critical position on his staff, and the wait for him has left LSU's offense in an uncertain position. The search is unfolding during a key juncture in the recruiting period when coaches can visit prospects and their families. That period ended at midnight Sunday and does not resume until Jan. 12.
Two of LSU's quarterbacks committed in the Class of 2017 have, in different ways, backed off their pledges.
St. James' Lowell Narcisse, the No. 8 dual-threat QB in the class according to 247Sports.com, decommitted Monday. Myles Brennan, the No. 10 pro-style QB, reopened his recruitment earlier this month. Brennan, a record-setting standout at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, said he remains an LSU commitment, though.
Orgeron said earlier this year that he would recruit and sign pro-style quarterbacks if hired as the full-time coach, but at his introductory news conference the coach said he would run a spread system with a dual-threat quarterback — the style Alabama ran under Kiffin this year.
St. James High and four-star dual-threat quarterback Lowell Narcisse announced Monday that h…
Canada has been offensive coordinator at five schools since 2010: Pitt (2016), N.C. State (2013-15), Wisconsin (2012), Northern Illinois (2011) and Indiana (2007-10), his alma mater.
In his first season at Pitt, he was one of five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. The Panthers scored more than 28 points in each game, and they have the highest-scoring team in school history, averaging 42.3 points. Nathan Peterman has thrown 26 touchdowns to six interceptions and led the ACC in QB rating.
Over the years, Canada's offensive philosophy has changed. He has run pro-style offenses and run-first spread attacks, too. He stressed in an interview this year that his offense fluctuates based on his personnel, pointing to the heavy use of tight ends at N.C. State one year and his running back-dependent offense at Wisconsin in another.
“It’s a player’s game,” Canada said in a story posted in April at pittnews.com. “We’ve got to put our players in a position to make plays, and then they’ve got to make them.”
Canada is similar to LSU defensive coordinator Dave 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.
Canada’s contract details at Pitt were not released in USA Today’s compilation of assistant coaches salaries. After his second season at N.C.State in 2014, he signed a new three-year contract paying him $560,000 per year. Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren fired Canada after his third season in 2015, a move that surprised Canada, he said in interviews this past year.
At N.C. State, Canada molded former Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett into one of the nation’s most efficient QBs. Brissett threw 43 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions over his junior and senior season. The Wolfpack in 2014 rushed for its highest total since 1977 with 2,659 yards, and it averaged 33.2 points in 2015, the third-highest mark in school history.
Canada was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin in coach Bret Bielema’s final season with the Badgers. Led by All-America running back Montee Ball, Wisconsin averaged 236.4 rushing yards to rank 13th nationally, and Ball won the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back.
Canada oversaw a Northern Illinois offense in 2011 that averaged nearly 40 points en route to an 11-3 record and a Mid-American Conference title. His first offense at Indiana in 2007 posted a school-record 412 points.