Matt Canada, UW football

New University of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada said his offensive philosophy is to "score points" — by designing the offense to play to the strengths of the personnel at hand.

Adam Mertz — Wisconsin State Journal

After three years as the starting quarterback at Northern Illinois, Chandler Harnish wasn't sure what more he needed to learn when Matt Canada was hired as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year.

When former University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren came in as Northern Illinois' coach after the 2010 season, the first offensive assistant he reached out to was Canada, who was at Indiana the previous seven years.

Northern Illinois was coming off an 11-win season and a bowl victory when then-coach Jerry Kill and most of his staff were hired at Minnesota. The transition to a new staff was not easy on Harnish.

"It took me a little while to learn who was the boss," Harnish said last week after Canada was hired as UW's offensive coordinator. "But (Canada) made sure we both knew he was in charge. Once we got on the same page, it was smooth sailing."

Harnish credits Jim Zebrowski — a former Northern Illinois quarterbacks coach and a one-time offensive coordinator at UW-Whitewater — with helping in his development. But it was the arrival of Canada that helped turn Harnish into a great college quarterback.

Zebrowski "took me to a certain level," Harnish said. "Then (Canada) took me past that level and to greatness. I think he's a fantastic coach."

Canada's early success at UW will depend in large part on his talents as a quarterbacks coach.

Canada won't have to worry about butting heads with an established, successful quarterback at his new job. That's because the Badgers don't have anyone who fits that description.

Russell Wilson was a one-year savior after transferring from North Carolina State, but now UW goes back to the dirty work of developing its own quarterbacks.

The two players who have been in the program the longest have significant injury questions. Curt Phillips, who will be a senior, has undergone ACL surgeries on the same knee and hasn't played since 2009. Jon Budmayr, who will be a junior, sat out last season with a nerve problem in his right (throwing) elbow.

The other two quarterbacks on the roster have a long way to go to be ready by next season. Joe Brennan will be a sophomore — and the presumed starter if Phillips and Budmayr aren't healthy — after backing up Wilson last season. Joel Stave is a promising walk-on who will be a redshirt freshman.

Bart Houston is a highly regarded recruit from De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. But he did not enroll early and it is unlikely he will be ready to play right away.

"Obviously, I've ... coached guys that haven't played a lot," Canada said at his introductory news conference. "I'm so excited, that's the next thing to do here. ... I'm going to get on the phone and call those guys and reach out to them; knew some of them through recruiting way back.

"Everybody's got a clean slate. We're going to find the best way to maximize our talent."

'You want to coach?'

Canada was a prep quarterback in New Palestine, Ind., whose career was apparently cut short by an injury, though he had a different version of events.

"I wasn't a college player," Canada said, adding that coaching "is what I wanted to do."

Canada enrolled at Indiana and planned to go into business. One day, he ran into Steve Stripling, an assistant coach who recruited him. Canada missed football and it was apparent to Stripling, who told him to go see Indiana coach Bill Mallory.

"Coach said, 'What do you do?'" Canada recalled. "I said, 'I can't ...' I used that word (can't) — never forget, he came across the table, said, 'You want to coach? Let's go.'"

It was the same year graduate assistant positions were reduced from five to two, so Mallory had plenty of work that needed to be done.

"Somebody needed to be a grunt to go do it," Canada said. "I was that guy."

Canada spent two years as a student coach working with running backs and then quarterbacks, followed by two years as a graduate assistant.

"That's a heck of an advantage for a kid, unfortunately, that can't play, to have a chance to be a coach those four years," said Joe Novak, who was an assistant on Mallory's staff. "That's four years that are invaluable in learning and developing.

"Of course, being around coach Mallory, who was really a solid person and coach, I know (Canada) got a lot out of that experience."

Simple philosophy

Canada's first full-time job was at Butler, where he coached quarterbacks and wide receivers before moving up to offensive coordinator.

Novak was hired as the coach at Northern Illinois in 1996 and went 1-10 and 0-11 in his first two years. Canada joined the staff in 1998, coaching running backs for three years and quarterbacks for two, before taking over as offensive coordinator for a breakthrough 2003 season when Northern went 10-2.

Canada "has always been very bright," Novak said. "He was a quarterback in high school. He was exposed to the game more than a right guard would be, was always a very bright kid, always wanting to learn more, worked very hard at his football, very personable. Was a real good players' coach."

Canada went back to Indiana as the quarterbacks coach in 2004, was named the passing game coordinator the next season and was the offensive coordinator from 2007 to '10.

The quarterbacks he coached at Indiana — Ben Chappell, Kellen Lewis and Blake Powers — hold the top three spots in single-season touchdowns, yards, completions, attempts and completion percentage in school history.

Asked for common traits in the successful quarterbacks he has coached, Canada said: "They were ball guys. They loved ball. They're students of the game. I think when you look around, all the way through the NFL, the guys who play are the guys who study it and love it.

"I'm certainly looking forward to seeing how that works with these guys (at UW) and understand their strengths. Our philosophy will be keeping it as simple as we can. I believe it firmly. Nobody who plays us will think that, but for our kids, it will be simple."

Going back to pro-style

After Canada went to Northern Illinois last season, it didn't take Harnish long to come around.

Harnish flourished in Canada's no-huddle, up-tempo spread offense, throwing for 3,216 yards and rushing for 1,379.

Among the things Harnish credits Canada with teaching him are reading coverages, becoming a leader on the field and off "and just bring it every day. He's taught me a lot of nuances and small intricacies of the game I would have never learned elsewhere."

Harnish doesn't think Canada will have any problem going back to a pro-style offense. The Huskies ran that offense in Canada's first stint as coordinator.

"There were a lot of pro-style elements to our offense — we just didn't use them a whole lot because we had different types of personnel than Wisconsin does," Harnish said.

"He'll adjust fine. I'm telling you, he's one of those premier offensive coordinators, along with quarterbacks coach, in the country."

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