COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In his first public comments since being named Maryland‘s interim head coach, offensive coordinator Matt Canada on Wednesday said the players’ health and safety “is No. 1.”
“Our practices have been extremely crisp,” Canada told a small group of reporters at practice. “The focus of our players’ health and safety is No. 1, and our players are feeling that and understanding that. That’s our primary focus.”
It was an extremely different atmosphere from Tuesday’s news conference in which university president Wallace Loh said the school “accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes” made by its athletic training staff at a workout on May 29 that ultimately led to the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke.
Following a hastily called news conference Wednesday morning, media members were allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of practice. While speakers blared Will Smith’s “Summertime,” the entire team got organized on the field. The players were energetic, and it looked like any other typical August college football practice.
What was most noticeable, however, were two giant white tents that were used as cooling stations — one for offense and one for defense. One staff member was emptying giant bags of ice into the containers of misting fans.
Canada said the players would be given two breaks at practice, and they had plenty of water, Gatorade and snacks available.
“Our entire staff has done a tremendous job of coming together, of bonding together, of making it about our players,” Canada said. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who’s getting the credit, and we’re seeing that right now in our building.”
According to preliminary findings from an external investigation led by Walters Inc., the Maryland staff did not take McNair’s temperature at the May 29 workout, did not apply a cold-water immersion treatment and did not follow the emergency response plan appropriately.
Maryland will have a scrimmage Saturday that is closed to the media, but players’ parents will be invited to attend. Athletic director Damon Evans set up a meeting for the parents with Canada and the staff.
“I’ve talked to a couple of parents, and I’ve been very open and honest, which I think is the only way to be,” Canada said. “Everybody’s concerns right now are very wide-ranging. … Our parents and our players want to have a good football season.”
Following an ESPN report detailing allegations of verbal abuse, bullying and a general disregard for the players’ well-being, the school on Friday placed head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall on administrative leave, sources told ESPN. Rick Court, Maryland’s head strength and conditioning coach, announced his resignation Tuesday.
The university announced head coach DJ Durkin was also placed on paid administrative leave Saturday, when Canada was named the interim.
Canada said he has talked to Durkin “to call him and support him in a situation that’s really challenging,” but he declined further comment.
Canada has been through crisis situations before. He was at Indiana when Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner died of brain cancer in June 2007. That fall, Canada helped Indiana reach its first bowl game since 1993. In February 2002, Canada was quarterbacks coach at Northern Illinois when Jawan Jackson died after collapsing during a conditioning drill at a tryout for the team.
Canada, 46, arrived in Maryland in January after agreeing to part ways with LSU after just one season as offensive coordinator. He had signed a three-year, $4.5 million deal with LSU but received $1.7 million of his remaining contract after leaving the school. Canada signed a three-year contract with Maryland that pays him $650,000 annually.
Maryland marked Canada’s seventh school in nine years and his seventh overall FBS offensive coordinator position, following stints at LSU, Pitt, NC State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Northern Illinois. In 2016, he was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant, after Pitt’s offense set team single-season records for points (532) and points per game (40.9).
Indiana scored a team-record 412 points when Canada served as offensive coordinator at his alma mater in 2007.
Maryland opens its season against Texas on Sept. 1. The results of the Walters Inc. investigation is expected on Sept. 15.