Canada fo­cused on task at hand

Back home in In­di­ana, Terps in­terim coach sees visit as just an­other game

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK – Mary­land in­terim coach and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Matt Canada does not seem to be the nos­tal­gic type, much more wrapped up in the present than the past. Nor does he seem con­sumed with his un­cer­tain fu­ture.

It has served him well through­out his coach­ing ca­reer, in par­tic­u­lar this sea­son as he has helped the Terps nav­i­gate through more tragedy than tri­umph, more tur­moil in a mat­ter of three months than many teams go through in a decade.

What some might think is a home­com­ing at In­di­ana —filled with mem­o­ries about the roots of how the 46-yearold Canada de­cided to spend his adult life — is just an­other game, he said Tues­day.

Still, it is a very big game to­day for Mary­land, a team that finds it­self one vic­tory shy of bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity, and for Canada, who has put him­self in po­si­tion for his first full-time head coach­ing job — ei­ther with the Terps or at an­other school.

Big Ten stu­dio an­a­lyst Gerry DiNardo, who hired Canada as his quar­ter­backs coach at In­di­ana for what turned out to be DiNardo’s last sea­son of coach­ing in 2004, said that Canada’s un­likely au­di­tion at Mary­land has helped his rep­u­ta­tion.

“I don’t think there’s any ques­tion that he’s cer­tainly a bet­ter head coach­ing can­di­date now than he was three or four months ago, no doubt,” DiNardo said Fri­day. “It’s in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence. … Matt has made mis­takes he won’t re­peat, hope­fully. He’s done good things he will re­peat.

“The first time you be­come a head coach, you lay down in bed and you’re just over­whelmed that every­body is look­ing at you for lead­er­ship — peo­ple that are younger than you, peo­ple that are older than you. And they need lead­er­ship. If some­one is not look­ing at

him dif­fer­ently, they just don’t know the game.”

For his part, Canada has down­played his home­com­ing to his alma mater, where he started his coach­ing ca­reer as a stu­dent as­sis­tant, con­tin­ued as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant and then spent seven years — the long­est stint of his ca­reer — work­ing for three dif­fer­ent head coaches.

“Well it’s not about me go­ing back there. To that part, there’s no part to it,” Canada said Tues­day. “One thing, I didn’t play. I was a stu­dent coach. I never played, just to clar­ify that.”

Yet Canada made con­nec­tions dur­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate years in Bloom­ing­ton, specif­i­cally with long­time Hoosiers coach Bill Mal­lory and mem­bers of his staff, that car­ried him through the first 15 years of his ca­reer.

“I met with Coach Mal­lory, and it changed my life,” said Canada, who grew up about 90 min­utes north of Bloom­ing­ton in New Pales­tine, a square-mile ham­let with a pop­u­la­tion of around 2,000.

Af­ter Canada spent the 2004 sea­son as In­di­ana’s quar­ter­backs coach, DiNardo was about to pro­mote him to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor when Steve Ad­dazio, now the coach at Bos­ton Col­lege, left to go to Florida.

DiNardo met with the ath­letic di­rec­tor to talk about his staff, not re­al­iz­ing he was about to be fired.

“He wanted in­tel for the next guy,” DiNardo said. “As I was ex­plain­ing the sit­u­a­tion to him, I told him I wanted to make Matt Canada my of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. I had that much con­fi­dence in him af­ter be­ing to­gether three or four months.”

Terry Hoepp­ner, who re­placed DiNardo, hired Canada as the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

“There was two coaches there that have both passed — Coach Hoepp­ner and Coach Mal­lory — who were very close to me and very in­stru­men­tal in my life, and Coach DiNardo hired me back there, too,” Canada said. “In our pro­fes­sion, the peo­ple you’re around do mold you. … I was very, very for­tu­nate as a young coach to be around great coaches.”

While some of those mem­o­ries might re­turn when Canada walks into Memo­rial Sta­dium to­day, the only fo­cus ap­pears to be an In­di­ana team that will try to break its four-game los­ing streak and a bunch of Terps un­happy about the way they played in last week’s 24-3 home loss to Michi­gan State.

As much as some are spec­u­lat­ing about the chances Canada has of turn­ing the in­terim ti­tle into a full-time po­si­tion — as ath­letic di­rec­tor Da­mon Evans, who gave Canada his shot, did in suc­ceed­ing Kevin An­der­son — Canada said he is sim­ply think­ing about the next game rather than the next move. In­terim head coach Matt Canada is re­turn­ing to In­di­ana, where he went to school and served as an as­sis­tant coach.

DiNardo said the job Canada has done has been re­mark­able un­der the cir­cum­stances.

“Most times coaches are in sit­u­a­tions, they typ­i­cally call some­one else who’s been in the same sit­u­a­tion,” DiNardo said. “Not many peo­ple have been in the sit­u­a­tion Matt has been in, so I’m not sure there’s a re­source there. He’s kind of go­ing day by day.

“I think he’s min­i­mized the dis­trac­tion by turn­ing the de­fense over and not be­ing a de­fen­sive ex­pert. He’s de­flected losses on him­self. The best con­tri­bu­tion he can do in this sit­u­a­tion is be the best of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor he pos­si­bly can be, be­cause that gives the kids the chance to have a bowl sea­son in a year when the un­think­able has hap­pened to this team. Hav­ing the death of a team­mate, that’s over­whelm­ing, ob­vi­ously.”

While con­ced­ing the topic of a full-time coach­ing job with the Terps has come up among him­self and his play­ers, es­pe­cially af­ter DJ Durkin went from be­ing on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave in Au­gust to be­ing ter­mi­nated last week, Canada wants them just to think about In­di­ana.

Af­ter then he wants them to think about Ohio State. And then Penn State.

“We’ve had a great sea­son of learn­ing how to be to­gether,” Canada said. “We’ve had some chal­lenges. We’ve had some ups, we’ve had some downs. We’ve won some, we’ve lost some. Like ev­ery other sea­son.

“But right now we’re fo­cused on In­di­ana and I can gen­uinely say that’s ex­actly what we talked about as a team [this week]. We’re fo­cused on each other and we’re not go­ing to look past where we are right now.”

While Canada has been more crit­i­cal of the job he has done with the team’s wildly in­con­sis­tent of­fense than what he has done to keep his play­ers from frac­tur­ing into two dif­fer­ent camps — es­sen­tially those who wanted Durkin back and those who­didn’t — he has gained the rep­u­ta­tion of a play­ers’ coach.

“It’s a give and take sit­u­a­tion. Coach Canada has done a phe­nom­e­nal job,” se­nior run­ning back Ty John­son said af­ter prac­tice Tues­day. “He came when Coach Durkin was put on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave and he took that job with­out any hes­i­ta­tion. He’s done a great job coach­ing us, bring­ing us to­gether as a team. We as a team re­spect Coach Canada. We love him.”

John­son won’t be af­fected by whether or not Canada gets the full-time job, but he is sup­port­ive of his can­di­dacy.

“I would love to see him get it so when I come back [to visit] and ev­ery­thing, but it’s ul­ti­mately not my de­ci­sion,” John­son said.

Se­nior out­side linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, who was pub­licly sup­port­ive of Durkin re­turn­ing to the team in Au­gust, said Tues­day that Canada “took on the lead­er­ship role head on and he didn’t hes­i­tate. I ap­pre­ci­ate him for that. His big­gest thing was keep­ing ev­ery­one to­gether and fo­cused on the right things. He’s done a tremen­dous job of re­lay­ing that mes­sage week to week.”

Asked if he has faced new chal­lenges in his cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, Canada chuck­led.

“Pre­sented with a few things, I guess, that I wasn’t ex­pect­ing,” he said. “Call­ing from the field has been a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. Get­ting to know the de­fense bet­ter. Try to find the good in ev­ery­thing. There’s been a lot of good.”

There’s some irony in the fact that Mary­land’s de­fense has car­ried the team at times more than the of­fense. The de­fense ranks fourth in the Big Ten in yards al­lowed and leads the coun­try with 16 in­ter­cep­tions. The of­fense ranks last in the Big Ten in pass­ing and is the fifth worst in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion, ahead of just four triple-op­tion teams.

Canada said he has spo­ken to oth­ers who have taken on the head coach­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and play-call­ing with a lot more suc­cess than he has, in­clud­ing Ok­la­homa’s Lin­coln Ri­ley, who was put in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion when Bob Stoops sud­denly re­tired three months be­fore the start of the 2017 sea­son.

Not only was Canada rel­a­tively new to Durkin’s staff and didn’t re­ally know many de­fen­sive play­ers, he also had just three weeks to ac­cli­mate him­self to be­ing in charge. Even now that Durkin is no longer Mary­land’s coach, Canada down­plays the sig­nif­i­cance.

Yet some of what Ri­ley told him res­onated with Canada.

“Just stick to do­ing what you’re sup­posed to do,” Canada said. “I’m sup­posed to be the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, so that’s what I’ve done. So I’ve tried to be around the play­ers, make sure they knew I was there.

“I’ve fo­cused on be­ing the quar­ter­back coach and the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.”

ULYSSES MUNOZ/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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