LSU’s search for an offensive coordinator remains focused on Lane Kiffin, but the school has deeply vetted three other candidates for the job among a pool of a dozen coaches.
The hunt for a coordinator is in wait-and-see mode as Kiffin, the Alabama offensive coordinator and head coach Ed Orgeron’s top target, continues his search for a head coaching job.
Orgeron had zeroed in on three candidates as fallback options if Kiffin lands elsewhere, a source told The Advocate. They include Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada, former Southern California and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian (now an offensive analyst at Alabama) and ex-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.
Canada, a 44-year-old Indiana native, has emerged as a serious candidate for the position if Kiffin ends up elsewhere.
Kiffin’s options are running low. He was a finalist for the job at Houston before the Cougars promoted offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, a Baton Rouge native. He was interested in South Florida before the school chose Sunday to hire ex-Texas coach Charlie Strong.
A potential deal between Kiffin and Florida Atlantic reportedly fell through Friday night, but it’s not clear whether negotiations are ongoing. Florida Atlantic, a Conference USA school, paid its previous coach $600,000 per year. Kiffin was set to make $1.4 million this year at Alabama, and a deal with LSU could pay him more.
Positions at Western Kentucky and Temple remain vacant, and other jobs could open in the coming days.
Kiffin’s relationship with Alabama and head coach Nick Saban thrived on the field over the past three seasons, but he’s in the final year of a contract that Bama did not extend earlier this fall. Kiffin is expected to receive a significant, multi-year contract if hired at LSU, part of a plan laid out by Orgeron during a meeting with university leaders a day before they named him the full-time head coach last month.
Getting Kiffin was a priority for Orgeron, and it began weeks ago. Kiffin and Orgeron are close friends, and Orgeron worked under him at USC and Tennessee. They speak several times per week, Orgeron said in November.
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Orgeron has backup plans if Kiffin lands what would be his fourth head coaching job. LSU vetted about 10 to 12 coaches out of hundreds who showed interest, narrowing the pool to a trio that The Advocate has previously reported on: Canada, Sarkisian and Helfrich.
Canada has been offensive coordinator at five schools since 2010, including N.C. State (2013-15), Wisconsin (2012), Northern Illinois (2011) and Indiana (2007-10), his alma mater.
He was one of five finalists this year for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s best 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.
Canada’s contract details were not released in USA Today’s compilation of assistant coach salaries. After his second season at N.C. State in 2014, he signed a 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 best dual-threat QBs. Brissett threw 43 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions over his junior and senior seasons. 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.
But Canada’s candidacy is contingent on the decision by Kiffin, the No. 1 guy for Orgeron. Orgeron has called Kiffin a “great offensive mind” whom he tried to hire at Ole Miss when he took over in 2005.