Matt Canada is plenty busy, and he has been for days.
As interim coach of the Maryland team, Canada is not just putting in a game plan for Saturday’s opener against No. 23 Texas. He is also fulfilling his duties as offensive coordinator and, most importantly, making sure the players stay focused during a season dedicated to fallen teammate Jordan McNair — a season that will start with head coach DJ Durkin on leave and the subject of an investigation.
McNair, a sophomore offensive lineman, died on June 13, two weeks after collapsing during a team workout. Since that time, Maryland has launched two investigations — one to unearth the circumstances surrounding McNair’s death, the other to address allegations of an abusive culture within the program. Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11, leaving Canada in charge of a team with no shortage of distractions.
“We talk about it daily as a team,” Canada said Tuesday. “I couldn’t be prouder of the way they’re working at it. We’re helping each other. Everything that they’ve dealt with, they’ve done the best job they could possibly do. We’re as ready as we can be, given the situation that we’re in.”
It’s a delicate balance for Canada, trying to prepare his players for a clash with a ranked team while respecting the memory of McNair.
“We’ve been dealing with this a couple months,” Canada said. “It’s not like it’s ever going to go away, and we’re not asking it to go away. But when our players play, they want to play well for each other and for Jordan. That’s important to them.”
The 46-year-old Canada has never been a head coach before. He came to Maryland after serving as offensive coordinator at six schools, most recently LSU last season.
Not only is he trying to juggle tasks in his new role, but Canada and his staff have also met with each commission conducting an ongoing investigation.
“Their charge is get this wrapped up and find what they need to find, and we’re doing everything we can as a staff to support them on that,” Canada said.
No players have been made available to the media since McNair’s death. There was no media day, no availability after practice and no players to interview after Canada spoke on Tuesday.
After a long summer of practice, most teams can’t wait to finally play a game. That especially rings true for the Terrapins, who endured a one-of-a-kind preseason camp that ended Saturday.
“We’re excited that it’s finally game week,” Canada said. “Our players did a tremendous job of focusing on sticking together and obviously continuing to think about, talk about, grieve about and find different ways to play for Jordan.”
The players will wear a sticker with the No. 79 on their helmets, and McNair’s locker has been encased in glass.
Canada said he has been adamant about player safety, but has no intention of putting his stamp on the program because he honestly has no idea how long he will be the man in charge.
“Every day I’ve wake up and try to do the best I can,” he said. “Until someone tells me something different, I’m going to do that. And when they do, I’ll do that.”
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