College Park, MD (AP) – When he first got the job as Maryland’s interim football coach, Matt Canada decided it would be best to handle the uncertainty of the position one day at a time.
The days turned into months. Now, with the Terrapins are halfway through their schedule, Canada’s status – and approach – remains unchanged.
“Right now, as a football program we’re working as hard as we can do the best job we can today,” Canada said Tuesday. “Tomorrow, we’ll see what tomorrow is.”
Working together under highly unusual circumstances, Canada and the Terrapins have put together a season that is far better than anyone could have reasonably expected.
Heading into Saturday’s game on the road against No. 19 Iowa, Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) has already matched last year’s win total and is just two victories away from becoming bowl eligible.
It’s quite an accomplishment for a football program that became unhinged in June, when offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke two weeks after collapsing during a preseason workout.
School President Wallace Loh acknowledged mistakes were made in McNair’s treatment on the practice field, and an independent investigation confirmed that assertion.
The program was also rocked by charges that the coaching staff bullied the players. The strength and conditioning coach resigned, and head coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August while an external commission investigates the behavior of the staff under his leadership.
Canada, in his first year as Maryland’s offensive coordinator, was thrust into the role of interim coach. His first college head coaching job has probably lasted longer than expected.
“We’re taking it day by day. We said that from the beginning and I think that was a good plan at the time,” Canada said.
The Terrapins been instructed by Canada to live in the moment and respect the past. The players honor McNair before every game by waving a big red flag with the No. 79 during introductions. When at home, they take a knee behind the end zone in a huge circle with No. 79 emblazoned in the middle.
“I’m certainly not an expert on the grieving process,” Canada said. “Everybody does it differently. I think our football players have worked very hard at trying to manage the loss of a friend and a teammate. They lean on each other, stick by each other, help each other through.”
Somehow, it’s all worked. Maryland remains the only team to defeat Texas this season, and the Terrapins also have blowout wins over Bowling Green, Minnesota and Rutgers.