When Matt Canada spoke to reporters on Aug. 15 for the first time since being named Maryland football’s interim head coach four days prior, he gave meandering, nervous answers about the impossible task he’d been given.
Canada’s statements at his second media availability on Tuesday showed he’s grown more comfortable, but only as much as can be expected for someone in his situation — a newly hired offensive coordinator, filling in for a head coach on an apparently indefinite administrative leave, with four days before the season opener against a ranked opponent, as players continue to mourn the death of a teammate.
Under normal circumstances, Canada’s promotion would be viewed primarily as a potential resume-builder to garner him further opportunities down the line. Instead, the focus is on rescuing a listing ship and generating an adequate on-field product.
“It’s not about me,” Canada said.
The 46-year-old is trying to find the right balance of football and grieving, of preparation and safety. He seems more willing to refer to himself as a grief counselor than a head coach. And there just so happens to be a football game against No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field on Saturday.
“This is a unique situation,” Canada said. “Obviously, it’s a challenging situation, and ultimately, it’s still about Jordan [McNair]. And that’s why we’re here and all these things have occurred.”
There’s still a chance DJ Durkin will be reinstated as head coach, in which case Canada would revert to the offensive coordinator duties he was hired in January to perform.
Until Durkin learns his fate, Canada is in a period of limbo.
“I don’t have any other way to do it except for day-to-day,” Canada said. “Every day I wake up, I’ve been put in charge of being interim head coach. Try to do the best we can. And when I wake up, I do it. Until somebody tells me something different, I’m going to do that.”
Maryland was expected to be Canada’s seventh offensive coordinator gig, after stops including LSU, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. He’s reluctant to relinquish that title, but it was clear he was in charge as he strode around Cole Field House at open practice Tuesday wearing his signature straw hat and a whistle around his neck.
“Here we go!” he bellowed across the field before a kickoff drill. As he watched over the special teams unit he wasn’t in charge of until Maryland placed Durkin on leave Aug. 11, he yelled again: “Jog back!”
“We’ve got a defensive staff, a special teams staff, an offensive staff — every staff, I could go through the whole thing and bore you. That’s still the greatest thing about football — all the people that it takes,” Canada said. “It’s a day-to-day deal to do the best we can for our players, to put them in the best position we can to play, to go to school, and to deal with the situations we’re dealing with.”
To prepare for Saturday, Canada said he’s reached out to other head coaches who handled offensive play-calling duties. But he admitted they were “certainly not in [my] situation.”
After he watched Maryland’s quarterbacks Tuesday, Canada meandered across the indoor field to check in on the defense. At his first media availability, he said he wasn’t “taking on” the defense, deferring to the regular defensive coaches.
And though Tuesday showed he’s adopted some responsibility on that side of the ball, he’s emphasizing that — for now, at least — the arrangement is temporary.
“I’m really focused on being the offensive coordinator most of the time. That’s my job,” Canada said. “I certainly have pride in [being a head coach] and want to do the best job I can in the situation we’re in, but we all as a staff are picking up a little extra weight here and there to allow our players to play fast and loose and have a good day on Saturday.”