Tennessee coach Butch Jones is spanning the country in search for the Volunteers' next offensive coordinator, but the best candidate can be found in Canada: North Carolina State coordinator Matt Canada.
The offensive guru behind the Wolfpack's resurgence has been mentioned on several hot boards, including Wes Rucker's of GoVols247. Canada is the perfect replacement for departed Vols OC Mike Bajakian—who left late last week to become Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach.
Though there haven't been any reports that Jones actually has or even will meet with Canada, the name is intriguing for various reasons.
Currently, the expected favorite for UT's vacancy is Mike DeBord, who interviewed with Jones over the weekend. DeBord is a longtime college and NFL assistant and current Olympic Sports Coordinator at the University of Michigan, but he hasn't been a coordinator since 2007.
Rucker even noted Monday: "We believe…DeBord seems likely to be involved with the program going forward in some capacity. Whether DeBord will be involved as the offensive coordinator remains to be seen, but that's certainly a possibility."
Other names have been tossed around and perhaps even spoken with or vetted by UT's coaching staff, but DeBord's multi-day interview has to put him atop the list.
Despite that development, Canada matches Jones' desire for schematic fit and familiarity on the surface as well as DeBord, and there are other factors that make him a more ideal replacement for Bajakian, if for no other reason than he hasn't been out of coaching for that long.
The Knoxville News Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak notes that it's a consensus from colleagues with credible sources that Canada is a "legit candidate" for the position:
Let's take a look at why Canada should get the call.
While Tennessee has struggled offensively the past couple of seasons, finishing 104th and 93rd, respectively, per CFBStats.com, the Vols have players now in place to run a spread-option offense.
Especially with junior dual-threat Joshua Dobbs entrenched as a difference-making quarterback, UT looked poised to make a big jump after bowl practice and a 45-point outburst against Iowa.
The receiving corps is loaded, Alvin Kamara is a JUCO jewel recruited to help ease the load on Jalen Hurd in the offensive backfield and the Vols have plenty of other weapons, too. That's why replacing Bajakian isn't exactly an encouraging turn of events.
When a team hires a new guy, it runs the risk of philosophy mismatches and dissension among the coaches on staff. That's the last thing Jones needs.
Make no mistake: 2015 is a huge year for the Vols, so this is an important hire. You don't want to go changing things around at vital points of your career (see: Derek Dooley's hiring of defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri).
That's why Jones told Football Scoop Radio on ESPN radio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week (via the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown):
For us, we're not looking for a major overhaul offensively. We're just looking to enhance our system. Going into year three and playing the inordinate amount of freshmen that we had to play last year, now they understand the system.
The thing we can't do is go backwards and spend our time installing a new offensive system. We have to be able to enhance it, continue to grow and elevate it. That's where we can spend more time on the fundamentals and the fine details of what it takes to play winning football.
Canada already runs an offense with spread elements, and he has been extremely successful recently. In his 22-year coaching career, he has been an offensive coordinator at Butler, Northern Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and N.C. State.
Most importantly, given the number of quarterbacks with the different sets of skills coming in Tennessee's 2015 recruiting class, Canada's offense has proven adaptable. Some years, he has been more spread-oriented, but he also has tailored his scheme to suit pro-style players, as noted by Dopirak:
He showcased offenses such as the one at a 2012 Wisconsin team that went to the Rose Bowl that he can be successful with a run-heavy unit, finishing 12th nationally in rushing yards.
Before that in his days at Indiana, quarterbacks Ben Chappell, Kellen Lewis and Blake Powers, held the top three spots in single-season touchdowns, yards, completions, attempts and completion percentage.
"Our offense is going to be quarterback-friendly," Canada told GoPack.com upon his hiring at State. "When you look at it, we've had running quarterbacks…we've had pure drop-back guys…we've had multiple quarterbacks who've done many things in our system. We're going to do what our players do well."
First and foremost, Canada is a quarterbacks coach. Considering Bajakian was one, too, bringing him in would enable the Vols to slide through this coaching change without much of a staff shakeup.
With receivers coach Zach Azzanni a potential candidate to be Central Michigan's head coach, there could be more moves coming, anyway. But hiring Canada would ensure a seamless transition.
Not only does he coach signal-callers, he coaches them well. On top of the aforementioned work at Indiana and with star Chandler Harnish at Northern Illinois in 2011 where he finished with 4,043 yards of total offense, Canada's development of Jacoby Brissett in 2014 was astounding.
The former Florida Gators quarterback who transferred from the scrap heap of backups in Gainesville had a resurgent season. Brissett finished with 2,606 passing yards, 529 rushing yards, 26 total touchdowns and just five interceptions.
The Pack finished 8-5, and Brissett led them to a big win over Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Canada also has groomed NFL running backs Michael "Burner" Turner and Montee Ball, who won the Doak Walker Award in 2012 while he was the coordinator. Both are physical, one-cut backs, which should suit Hurd's game.
Given the fact that this is Jones' offensive scheme, it's a viable question whether the head coach would hand over the reins to an assistant like Canada. At North Carolina State, Canada handles quarterbacks and calls all the offensive plays for Dave Doeren, a defensive-minded coach who probably doesn't meddle too much.
During Canada's one season in Madison, there was a reported "power struggle" between him and then-Badgers coach Bret Bielema. However, according to the Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Mulhern, once Bielema handed over control to Canada, the Badgers thrived:
Numerous UW sources said Canada's decision to stand up to Bielema was a significant factor in the offensive outburst that followed. The Badgers amassed 640 yards, including 539 on the ground, in the 70-31 victory over Nebraska.
Jones' handprints are all over this program, and this scheme—his scheme—has been successful everywhere he has been. Will he just hand everything over?
An experienced coach such as Canada would probably demand control. He has earned that right.
Jones should give it to him, if what he really said about "enhancing" the Vols' offense holds water.
Three other characteristics make Canada an attractive commodity for Tennessee's football program.
- Experience—In Canada's 22-year coaching career, he has been an offensive coordinator at five different programs. It's hard not to be impressed by that type of resume. He has coached for a long time, led an offense for a long time and has experienced success. He would bring a level of expertise to the staff that Bajakian didn't have, where he has had to adapt and diversify his scheme to different players for different coaches.
- Familiarity—The "Butch Jones Coaching Tree" doesn't have as many branches as others, but he does like to have a background with his assistants. That loyalty and familiarity is a big reason why he has tried to keep most of his staff in tact. While Jones and Canada have never coached together, Canada did coach with Zach Azzanni at Wisconsin and defensive line coach Steve Stripling at Indiana, so there's some overlap. Since Canada coached in the MAC a long time, there's no doubt Jones (a former Central Michigan head coach) has plenty of familiar references.
- Salary—While money shouldn't be an option at a place like Tennessee, the bottom line is the athletic department still isn't that far removed from operating in the red. Athletic director Dave Hart probably doesn't want to break the bank for a coordinator, which leads to candidates such as Arizona State's Mike Norvell (who makes $900,000) being out of the question. Canada makes $500,000 at N.C. State, according to 247Sports, which puts him in UT's price range. Bajakian made $480,000, and with the increased salary pool for assistants that came along with Jones' recent raise, the Vols would be able to give Canada a bit more money than he's currently making.
So, would Canada be interested? The Vols need to vet him and his agent and find out. Considering how long he's been in the business, it may appeal to the competitor in him to come and coach in the nation's top conference.
The Vols are an up-and-coming program, the weapons at the disposal of the new coordinator have to make the job appealing, and the continuity and stability that is now prevalent in the program have to be attractive.
Tennessee is on the prowl for an innovative coordinator, one who can enhance the position. Or, as Jones told Volquest.com's John Brice:
"I want him to come in and manage and develop the offense. To have an individual that's an expert at multiple positions. First and foremost, the quarterback position, but an individual with a proven track record of success, who's coached at all different levels."
That fits Canada to a "T." He has coached a long time, overseen every position on that side of the ball other than the offensive line, and he has a long history of making his players successful within the framework of his scheme.
That's why Jones needs to make him the next offensive coordinator at UT.
All statistical information gathered from CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.