One thing right off the bat - Narduzzi has worked with Canada before at Northern Illinois for three years from 2000-2002. What you might not have known is that Canada also worked with his last head coach, Dave Doeren, at Northern Illinois there, too. The two had a connection and that's why he ultimately wound up here. Narduzzi actually wanted him here initially when he came to Pitt last year:
One year ago, when Pat Narduzzi was hired as Pitt’s head coach, he had one person in mind to be his offensive coordinator: Matt Canada.
It didn’t work out at the time, as Canada was working at North Carolina State and, as Narduzzi put it, “had a really good contract.”
Canada made it very clear why he took this job:
“The main attraction for me is Pat Narduzzi, period,” Canada said. “That is the attraction.”
Canada comes most recently from North Carolina State and, as stated before, his dismissal was somewhat of an odd situation. While there, he led the Wolfpack to the ACC's third top offense and while their non-conference schedule was extremely light, the conference schedule wasn't with games against Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina. Canada's offense dominated the weak non-conference teams (Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, and South Alabama) scoring an average of 46.3 points per game.
Like most teams, NC State scored a ton of points early in the year against weaker competition. Despite some stumbles, the Wolfpack did reasonably well in conference play, though, as well. The highlights were scoring 41 against Clemson, 42 against Syracuse, 34 against North Carolina, and 35 against Wake Forest. Their performance against Boston College's No. 1 unit in Total Defense was better than average, too, as they scored 24 points against the Eagles - nine points higher than Boston College's average for the year. There were some duds against Louisville and Virginia Tech where they managed only 13 in each contest, but overall, they very pretty good. Losing your job after those kinds of results could hint that there were some personal issues with him there since it's clear he did a decent job. That's speculation, of course, but it's hard to believe there wasn't something more here.
Before that, Canada also had a lot of coordinator experience. He was Wisconsin's coordinator in 2012 and Northern Illinois' coordinator in 2011. From 2007 to 2010, he held that job at Indiana. Finally, he was also Northern Illinois' coordinator in 2003. Add it all up and he's not only been a coordinator for ten years, but was at a P5 program for eight of those. Regardless of what you might think of the hire, he's got experience and won't be overwhelmed at Pitt. That's helpful and again gives the program a coach that won't have to learn on the job.
Alright, so what can we expect from Canada? In an interview upon joining North Carolina State, he said he prefers to run, but will take what he can get:
"We always want to run the ball. Perfect world, clinic talk, you want to say your're 50/50 but some games they take something away and you try to run it every play, and some tell you throw it every play. We're always going to have the desire to run the football. That's something that's important to us. It's an identity of our team to be physical and run the ball but we're also always going to take what they give us. So, we don't have a number either way."
Canada also reiterated the desire to run in that earlier link to the Post-Gazette article so it's pretty clear that's going to be focus.
That's encouraging to hear and it fits with Narduzzi's philosophy in that the preference is to run. Canada's offense was 11th in time of possession this year and while they didn't have a completely dominant rusher, they had seven guys pick up at least 200 yards on the ground. You look at Pitt's ground game which we think was pretty good, but the Wolfpack were even better with about 200 yards more and almost twice as many touchdowns (36 to Pitts 19). Yes, they had a quarterback that could move around a bit in Jacoby Brissett but it wasn't a Keenan Reynolds situation, either (Brissett had 370 yards on the season).
Despite the desire to run, it also sounds like he will adjust the game plan to the opponent as well. A lot of coaches say they don't like to do that - that they don't want to let the opponent dictate what they do. But if Canada is really as wide open as he said in that earlier interview, it sounds like Pitt will try to take advantage of mismatches (assuming he still has the same philosophy that he took to NC State). That's just something I'm a big fan of. While I don't think you want to completely change your offense from game to game, I think exploiting your opponents' weaknesses is important.
One thing Pat Narduzzi mentioned in his initial statement upon Canada's hiring was that he finally had someone loyal. That almost had to be a subtle dig at former coordinator Jim Chaney, who bolted the program after staying there only a year. Here's the thing, though - Canada may be loyal as a coordinator but what if a head job comes along? Just last month, Canada's name was thrown around out there for the East Carolina job. How serious of a candidate he was is anybody's guess, but that job in particular isn't really the issue. The real issue is that Canada could become a head coaching candidate anywhere and if he finds the right situation, good luck in keeping him loyal.
Narduzzi made it a point to say he didn't want another one-year coordinator and was looking for someone in it for the long term. But what if Canada goes on to a huge season and another program comes calling? That happens all the time, obviously, and there's nothing you can do about a coach wanting to further his career. And trying to hire only coaches with no aspirations of moving up isn't realistic. But it's interesting when you consider Narduzzi's insistence on wanting someone to stay for a while. I almost wonder if Narduzzi insisted he stay for a few years, independent of even a head coaching job. My guess it that it would be hard to do that, but, well, there it is.
When it comes to what I expect from him next year, I think expectations have to be tempered a little. As we all know, Pitt loses its best offensive player from this season in wideout Tyler Boyd. Pitt does return quarterback Nathan Peterman but he's also going to be learning a new offense. The running game, if nothing else, should be good but there are a lot of question marks. I also look back at what Canada did in his first year at NC State in 2013 and can't help but be underwhelmed. In that year when the team went 3-9, Canada's offense averaged only 23 points per game. I'm not saying things will be that bad, but I do think it's unfair to expect huge results this season when there's going to be a bit of transition. The year after that, the team will be breaking in a new, inexperienced quarterback unless they pick up a graduate transfer. The next two seasons are filled with some big questions on offense and it will be interesting to see how Canada reacts.
I always hate trying to come up with snap judgments over new coaching hires we don't know about, but overall, I think Pitt did pretty good here. To have to come up with a coordinator after a somewhat surprise departure, it's hard to say Narduzzi did poorly here. Not only did Pitt get a guy with experience, but they also got one who has a pretty decent track record.