For the third year in a row, Pittsburgh will open spring practice with a new offensive coordinator, but Matt Canada -- who comes over from NC State -- is familiar with the Panthers and ready to keep the momentum of last year’s eight-win campaign going. We caught up with Canada to talk about his plans for the Pitt offense.
Q. How have the first few months at Pitt been for you?
A. There’s definitely a comfort level with [head coach] Pat [Narduzzi], and being back and reconnecting with him has been great. I’m getting to know the players, and we’re fortunate. We have a really good nucleus of guys coming back from a team that played well. It’s going very well. We’ve got a great group of coaches, and it’s a great situation.
Q. You have the tough task of replacing a great player in Tyler Boyd, but at NC State you had a reputation for spreading the ball around a lot. Boyd was the most targeted receiver in college football the last two years. Do you envision more of a committee approach this season?
A. I think it’s a great opportunity and we’ve certainly said that to our skill players, that there’s X amount of catches that he had, and he was certainly a top player who deserved those touches. But those balls have to go somewhere else. Who’s going to step up to do that? I think we’ve done that [in the past], spread the ball around and use all our weapons. That’s something that our system does well, and has done well. It allows player to show what they can do. So I think our guys are excited about that. But that would be the case no matter what with a great player leaving. There’s a void there, and we can look at that as a negative or as a great opportunity. I think our guys are looking at it as an opportunity to have a much larger role in our production.
Q. From Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph in 2014 to Pat and Jim Chaney last year, you’re now the third different coordinator in as many years for this offense. Do you come in and bring your own style or do you try to keep as much consistency from last year as possible for the guys who got used to that system?
A. There’s a little bit of familiarity for me. From Paul two years ago, I followed him [as an offensive assistant] at Wisconsin. Jim and I are friends. There are some systematic things. But that’s the funny thing about our game. We all run the same stuff but we all call them different things. For the guys, there’s a transition there. And we’ve been very aware of that and feel that for them, but I’ve tried to keep things as much as we can the same. One of the great parts about this, other than the quarterback, the other position coaches are the same, and they have that comfort level with their coach. It’s not a full-blown change where we’ve brought in a whole new offensive staff. We’re trying to make it as seamless as we can without minimizing that for them. But it’s part of the deal, and nobody’s looking for something to not work because of that.
Q. What’s your approach for James Conner’s availability in the fall? And what has his presence meant for the team these last few months as you get set for spring?
A. We’re planning to have him. You talk about a great story and a great role model for all of us. There’s a lot of us who wake up and this is hard or this is tough. In the offseason, we have our offseason workouts, and there are always the guys who do better than others in those. But if you have a day when you’re not thinking you should be going full speed, you look at James out there, and what he’s doing. He could not be doing anything and no one would say a word. He’s in the middle of treatment. He could say, "I’ll see you on the first day of camp," and we’d all say, "Great." We’re just thankful he’s back. But for him to be working the way he is, it’s just a great lesson in life. Football’s not even part of it. The way he’s attacking it, the attitude he has, his desire to get better -- he’s studying film on his own time. It’s very, very impressive. That’s why he’s a great player and a good guy, and for the guys on our team -- really for anybody -- here’s a guy that doesn’t do anything but all he can do. It’s a really exciting thing for me to even be around him.