BATON ROUGE, La. — O, Canada. Or is it O + Canada?
Either way, “Coach O” finally has his OC.
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada was introduced as LSU’s new offensive coordinator Wednesday, ending the biggest question following Ed Orgeron on the recruiting trail since taking over as the Tigers’ 33rd head coach two weeks ago.
“In the past, I’ve maybe hurried to make a (hiring) decision,” Orgeron said. “I wanted to make the right decision. We’re putting the foundation of our program together. We want to take our time and we want it to be solid.”
Like Orgeron himself, Canada is technically a backup plan. The top target for the opening was Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but that sliver of a chance faded away when Kiffin agreed to the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.
Of the next tier of candidates, Canada stuck out the most to Orgeron. Others who were reportedly considered included Alabama offensive analyst and former USC and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.
But Canada was the only one that Orgeron invited to Baton Rouge for an interview.
“It didn’t take long to know he was right for the job,” Orgeron said. “He wanted to be at LSU. His phone was ringing from other major universities yesterday. He wanted to be here. It was a good feeling.
“Team, his ability to adjust (blew me away). I watched his game against Clemson. He explained every play and formation, why he did it, what the defense was doing.”
Pitt upset Clemson 43-42, the only loss the No. 2 Tigers took this year before heading to the College Football Playoff.
Canada is proof that life comes at you fast in coaching. Just a year ago he was the furthest thing from a hot commodity, fired from North Carolina State despite the Wolfpack statistically having their best season among his three in Raleigh.
“This has been professionally and personally (both) the best and the hardest year of my life. However you want to look at it,” Canada said. “What happened at (NC State) is irrelevant. I didn’t see it coming. We were third in the league in scoring. But people make changes. And I’m fortunate the change was made, because I’m standing here talking to you right now.”
In one season at Pittsburgh, Canada led the Panthers to the most productive season in their history — a history that’s produced two of the best to ever play the game in running back Tony Dorsett and quarterback Dan Marino.
That said, Canada does not consider himself to be any sort of coaching savant, or an adherent to any particular offensive system.
“Plays are overrated,” Canada said. “Players win games. Not plays. We’re going to find the best player we can… our system isn’t anything super-magnificent. We’re going to use our players’ talents to find a way to win. We’re all blessed with different talents. Some are bigger, some are faster. We’ll find a way to score enough points with those players.”
Pitt was 10th in the nation with 42.3 points per game. The Panthers were tops in the country in red zone touchdown percentage, crossing the goal line on 83 percent (43 of 52) of their trips inside the 20.
Any LSU fan who can remember this year’s Florida game is likely to take great comfort in that latter statistic, perhaps tucking it under their pillow to fall asleep at night. The Tigers produced only a field goal in their final four red zone trips against the Gators.
Despite having dominant backs in Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, LSU tied with Central Michigan at 59th nationally in red zone touchdown percentage (62.1) this year.
“Our job as coaches is to maximize our talents. Not to have a system,” Canada said. “It’s to score points in the red zone. To do it, you have to be pretty good on third down. We believe you’ve got to run the football. That’s a big deal. But how we’ll run is dictated by our players and the defense.”
Canada’s career has mostly been based in the Midwest.
Prior to his three years at North Carolina State, he spent a year at Wisconsin under Bret Bielema (2012), one at Northern Illinois (2011), and four at Indiana (2007-10). He was Indiana’s quarterbacks coach from 2004-06 following a one-year coordinator stint at NIU in 2003.
Needless to say, Canada is excited for the opportunity to jump into the SEC.
“The appeal for me is this is LSU,” Canada said. “That’s the appeal. This is the greatest program in the country.”
He also demonstrated a sense of humor and bravado that figures to endear him to LSU fans — and aggravate a certain crimson-clad set.
When asked about his experience against SEC teams, Canada was quick with a reply.
“I’m 1-0 at Alabama,” he said with a smile.
Canada and NIU beat the Crimson Tide 19-16 in 2003, his first year as an FBS offensive coordinator.
For Tiger fans, the hope is that far-flung game is no fluke, but a foreshadowing of their own future.