Matt Canada’s most accomplished pro-style quarterback can be found working as an accountant at a public accounting firm in Denver.
His best dual-threat QB can be found in DeKalb, Illinois, working in the industrial roof sales business.
If you want to know about LSU’s new offensive coordinator, you talk to these guys.
“I would say he’s the only QB coach I ever really had,” said Ben Chappell, the Colorado-based accountant whom Canada recruited and then coached at Indiana from 2006-10. “He was coaching me when I was a sophomore in high school.”
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“He really reminds me of Bruce Arians,” said Chandler Harnish, Canada’s QB at Northern Illinois in 2011, referencing the offensive-minded head coach of the Arizona Cardinals; Harnish was with the organization in the summer of 2015. “He’s fearless. Absolutely fearless.”
These guys were with Canada during good and bad, alongside him during highs and lows.
Canada’s Harnish-led offense in 2011 helped the Huskies win 11 games and a Mid-American Conference championship. It came a year after Canada and the rest of the Hoosiers staff were fired following Chappell’s senior season.
These two know Canada like nobody else.
The victory formation is Canada’s “thing,” Harnish said. The quarterback remembers the coach’s celebration as Harnish and the offense lined up in the formation to secure the MAC title. They glanced up to the press box before the snap and there, standing on a table in the coach’s booth, was Canada, arms raised to signify his favorite alignment: “the V,” Harnish said.
Chappell remembers death and firings, two dark times in Canada’s past. Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner died of brain cancer in June 2007, the summer before Chappell's redshirt freshman season. Canada was promoted to offensive coordinator, and Bill Lynch took over as head coach.
Four years later, the staff, retained after Hoeppner’s death, was fired.
“After my last game, the staff getting fired was not easy,” Chappell said. “We beat our in-state rival, and thought maybe we had saved their jobs.”
Canada just completed his first full week as LSU’s offensive coordinator, arriving in Baton Rouge last Friday with his two children and fiancée.
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The grind began this past week. He was expected to meet with returning starting quarterback Danny Etling, and he began recruiting Thursday, visiting receiver prospect Devonta Smith of Amite and quarterback Myles Brennan of Mississippi's St. Stanislaus.
Canada’s offensive scheme is multiple. Players and quarterbacks aren’t shoved into his system; he molds a system around them, they said.
“The track record shows that,” Chappell said.
He has operated offenses with spread schemes run by dual-threat, run-heavy quarterbacks. He has led power-running attacks using multiple tight ends and a pro-style passer. He has even orchestrated an offense in the image of Oregon’s up-tempo, pass-heavy system under Chip Kelly.
“He’s going to base his offense around the quarterback,” said Brennan, the Tigers’ highly touted commitment set to sign Feb. 1. “He’s going to fit the offense around the athletes he has. I feel like that’s pretty special to me. I haven’t really heard that from a coach or another school. It’s usually, ‘Here’s our system. You either fit it or you don’t.’ ”
Chappell and Harnish are proof of Canada’s approach, each a different cut of quarterback who thrived in a different system. Harnish was Canada’s only starting quarterback to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Chappell passed for more yards (3,295) than any of the coach’s QBs in 11 seasons as offensive coordinator.
“He’s a guy that will put the QB in charge and give him the keys to the offense,” Harnish said. “He likes to run a multiple offense. Not afraid to get into the empty (set) or run power.”
In 2012, Danny Etling made a decision that brought Matt Canada into his life, at least briefly.
Canada’s offenses don’t only change from year to year or from school to school, Chappell said. He has seen them change from game to game and from series to series.
Chappell was the pro-style option of a two-QB system at Indiana in 2008. He split time with Kellen Lewis, the dual-threat starter. Lewis ran for 500 yards that year, throwing for 1,131. Chappell threw for 1,001 yards and ran for 72.
“He designed the offense for us both individually,” Chappell said. “I wasn’t physically able to do the things Kellen was able to do and vice versa. He was able to design plays and schemes to really fit our skill sets.”
He even handled quarterbacks differently off the field, Chappell said, motivating and teaching each in a way that fit “their personality and skills set.”
Chappell still stays in touch with his old offensive coordinator. The two exchange texts from time to time.
He has followed him at each of his four offensive coordinator stops in the past six seasons, watching as he changes offenses from school to school: the QB-run scheme with Harnish at Northern Illinois (2011); the power run system at Wisconsin (2012); the pass-leaning spread at N.C. State that featured Jacoby Brissett (2013-15); and a power-run, spread mixture at Pittsburgh in 2016.
Canada has yet to run fully the offense Chappell captained during his final two seasons at Indiana in 2009 and 2010. The Hoosiers passed the ball more than they ran it in Chappell's final two seasons, the only two years a Canada offense has done that.
They were a shotgun-based spread team that leaned heavily on the passing game. They were a high-tempo, no-huddle attack, a system Canada took from meetings in 2009 with Kelly, then in his first year as coach of the Ducks.
“We were 90 percent shotgun,” Chappell said. “It was a spread offense for sure.”
Two years later, Canada scrapped that scheme as coordinator at Wisconsin. Chappell called the coach’s one-year stint with the Badgers his most “interesting stop.”
“Because the history of Wisconsin and players — monster O-line and want to be run-heavy — he tried to stay within that mold and be successful," Chappell said. "Stayed within the tradition of the program.”
The Wisconsin State Journal in a story published in 2012 framed his approach a different way. The newspaper’s story used anonymous sources to paint a picture of an offensive power struggle between head coach Brett Bielema and Canada that unfolded over Wisconsin’s 2012 season.
Still, the Badgers ran the ball 69 percent of the time under Canada, by far the coach's run-heaviest mixture in his 11 years as a coordinator.
“Probably the most outlier of what he’s done,” Chappell said of Canada's stay in Madison.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron can't deny how well quarterback Danny Etling played in Tigers' regular …
What will Canada oversee at LSU?
Don’t expect a QB run attack like the one Canada coached and Harnish captained in 2011 at Northern Illinois, Harnish said.
“You have to compare the conferences,” he said. “I don’t think running in the SEC as a quarterback as much as I did would last very long. Don’t think it would be smart. Being able to run the ball is very much a part of Matt’s system as of late. That’s what makes him such a great coach — able to work with the personnel he has.”
“The biggest thing is, he’s going to do what he thinks matches his personnel,” Chappell said. “I don’t think he’s going to put guys into situations they’re not comfortable at. I think he’s going to bring a little bit different angle than maybe what LSU has been the last few years.”
If the offense will be predicated on the players, Canada has several options this year: pro-style guys, dual threats and players who are a mixture of both.
Etling, the incumbent starter and a rising senior, is a pro-style QB who has shown pocket awareness and a scrambling ability. Brennan, an incoming freshman, is the sixth-ranked pro-style QB in the 2017 signing class. He doesn’t arrive until the summer.
Brandon Harris is a rising senior with 15 starts, boasting a strong arm and the ability to outrun or muscle through defenders at times. Rising third-year sophomore Justin McMillan has been listed as both a pro-style and dual-threat quarterback.
Freshman Lowell Narcisse, a mid-year enrollee who will participate in spring practice, is a top-10 dual-threat quarterback in this class. Lindsey Scott, who simulated Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson during bowl preparation, redshirted as a freshman this season.
The options are plentiful, and the competition appears wide open.
“He said, ‘The best guy is going to play,’ ” Narcisse said Canada told him last month. “He said an example was, he played a walk-on freshman at Wisconsin. He said it doesn’t really matter what year you are or how old you are — the best guy is going to play.”
No matter who will be the starter, Canada is an aggressive play-caller, his two former quarterbacks said. He will breathe a new, riskier approach into the LSU offense, they said.
“He does not shy away from a fight. Matt is a fighter,” Harnish said. “When he smells blood, he goes after it.”
Matt Canada has served as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for six teams for a total of 11 seasons. Here’s how his starting quarterbacks have performed:
^ — Split time with another starter
What does he do?
Matt Canada’s 11 offenses as a coordinator produced contrasting styles when looking at run-pass percentage: