The messages flooding Dave Aranda’s phone over the last 24 hours came from numerous numbers, but all read, more or less the same thing.
“I can’t tell you how many texts I’ve gotten from coaches I respect that all say, ‘Man, that’s a great hire,'” Aranda said.
LSU introduced Matt Canada, its newest offensive coordinator, on Wednesday afternoon, but in college football coaching circles, Canada — who joins from Pittsburgh — needs no introduction.
“Within the coaching community, he’s very highly thought of,” said Aranda. “I talk to a lot of people, and it’s always about, ‘Who are you studying? Who are you looking at?’ On the offensive of side of it, if he’s not the first name brought up, he’s the second name.”
Canada, 44, has helped engineer a Panther offense averaging 42.3 points per game this season. His attack, led by the ACC’s most efficient quarterback, ranks fourth nationally in S&P+ and leads the nation in redzone touchdown percentage, scoring on 82 percent of its trips inside the 20 yard line.
Which all means quite little to Canada.
“Stats are overrated,” he said. “Stats are funny to talk about when you need to have something good to say. For me my job is to score enough points to win games, and that’s what I’m going do, in leading our offense and leading our team.”
Aranda’s phone isn’t the only one that’s been busy over the past 24 hours. A year ago, North Carolina State fired Canada after three seasons. But his work at Pitt this year landed him as a Broyles Award finalist as the nation’s top assistant and made him the envy of program’s across the country looking to make use of his skillset. He interviewed for the LSU position on Tuesday morning, all while his phone buzzed from other suitors. He gladly let those calls go to voicemail.
“He wanted to be at LSU,” said Ed Orgeron. “His phone was ringing from other major universities yesterday. Other major universities wanted him to come. He wanted to be here.”
The process to hire Canada took a couple of weeks, during which LSU waited to see if Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would land a head coaching job. He did, at Florida Atlantic, opening the door for Canada, as well as Alabama staffer Steve Sarkisian and former Oregon head coach Mark Hellfrich. But Canada was the only coach to land an interview, Orgeron said, and it was worth the wait.
“It didn’t take long to offer him the job,” Orgeron said. “I just wanted to bring the best coach to LSU. However long it took. If I would’ve had to wait until after the bowl, I would have. But when Matt showed up…it was time.”
Orgeron said he talked with coaches who have worked with Canada, and he had others call coaches who have coached against Canada to get their opinions on his style. He liked what he heard.
“He’s tough,” Orgeron said. “He’s tough to defend. With all his shifts and motions, it’s hard to keep your cleats in the ground and play. The guy can adjust in the game. He is always a step ahead.”
Canada will return to Pittsburgh for their bowl game, but he’ll begin recruiting for LSU immediately. Orgeron said he’ll be calling prospects today, and it’s likely his first two calls will be to Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse. Both are four-star quarterbacks, but Brennan, a pro-style player, remains committed to LSU; Narcisse, a dual-threat talent, de-committed at the weekend. Canada hopes he can make an impact recruiting the position immediately.
“I hope I have a major impact,” he said. “I’m excited to get on the phone with the young men that are committed to us, to get on the phone with the young men considering coming to play at this great place and tell them what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. I’m just a part of it. I certainly am not any major deal, and I’m going to express to them what we’re going to do, the honest and straightforward approach we’re going to have, and what we want to do is score points. I believe that’s the best way to do it in recruiting, to tell it like it is so there’s no confusion.”
He’s got a good product to sell. One of Canada’s finest credentials is his work with quarterbacks, an area of expertise LSU desperately needs. He helped turn Nathan Peterman from a Tennessee outcast to the ACC’s most efficient passer, ahead of Heisman winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson of Clemson. His offenses through the years, from his days at Northern Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin to North Carolina State and Pittsburgh, have mixed spread and pro-style elements, always catered to the skillset of his quarterback and designed to, in Canada’s words, “maximize his talents.”
It’s a philosophy that he says applies to his entire offensive system.
“We want to use our personnel,” Canada said. “I think the best thing we’ve done is find a way to maximize our strengths, and minimize our weaknesses, maximize strengths of players that we have at the moment. Our system is versatile enough.”
It’s also, he says, simple, too.
“Our system is very easy,” he said. “It’s very easy to learn. We find a way to teach it in a way that our kids understand it and they believe it and we want them to learn as fast as they possibly can. I don’t get any points for us to stand up saying, two years from now, you’re really going to understand this offense. That doesn’t matter. We’re going to win right now. That’s why we’re here.”
Another box Canada ticked off? He’s undefeated against Alabama. His Northern Illinois squad claimed a victory over the Tide in 2003. Twelve years later, he and his new employers hope win number two is right around the corner — with plenty of company to go with it. That, he says, is why he took the job — to win football games.
“The appeal for me is this is LSU,” he said. “That’s the appeal. This is the greatest football program in the country. I got a call from Coach O to come to LSU. That’s the appeal.”