MINNEAPOLIS - Maryland's switch from head coach D.J. Durkin to interim coach Matt Canada has not thrown off the Gophers' preparations for their Big Ten opener Saturday, Sept. 22, in College Park, Md.
If anything, it's created a deeper layer of familiarity.
While Canada might have been hired as Maryland's first-year offensive coordinator in January - meaning he wasn't involved in the Terrapins' 31-24 win over Minnesota last September - he and Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck have know each other for nearly 20 years.
Canada was Northern Illinois' offensive coordinator when Fleck was a Huskies wide receiver from 1999-03. During Fleck's senior season in 2003, the Huskies started undefeated with wins over Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State.
Both recalled a moment in that magical season for the Huskies. With the Huskies trailing Mid-American Conference foe Ohio, 23-16, and facing a fourth-and-4 from the Bobcats' 15, Canada called a play for Fleck with 1:47 left. Fleck caught it for the game-tying touchdown, and the Huskies went on to win in overtime.
Fleck had 14 receptions for 234 yards and a TD that day, and the 5-foot-9 receiver finished the season with 77 catches for 1,028 yards and six scores.
"He made me feel like I was a better player than I actually was," said Fleck, who now considers Canada to be a "friend."
"He was one of those people who instilled the confidence in you," Fleck said Monday. "I remember him telling me after the game, 'Yeah, I knew you had it in you, so I threw you the ball.'"
Canada was promoted this summer when Durkin was placed on administrative in the wake lineman Jordan McNair's death following an offseason workout. In a subsequent ESPN report on the program, current players and others close to the program described a "toxic coaching culture" under Durkin.
On Friday, Maryland's board of regents will be briefed on an external investigation into the workout that led to McNair's death, the Washington Post reported. A second investigation into the football program's culture has no deadline, leaving the future of Durkin, Canada and the rest of the program in doubt.
Maryland put that in the background with a 34-29 win over then-ranked Texas in their opener, then beat Bowling Green, 45-14. But last weekend, the Terrapins suffered a surprising setback against Temple, 35-14.
"One thing about Matt: He's never walked away from any challenge in his life or as a coach," Fleck said. "He demands respect, and that's not by him asking. You respect him immediately when you get around him because he has a very infectious personality. He's a heck of an offensive mind."
Canada also has been an offensive coordinator at Wisconsin (2012), North Carolina State ('13-15), Pittsburgh ('16) and Louisiana State a year ago before taking the same role at Maryland in January.
Fleck called Canada an "aggressive" play caller, who "involves everybody" and "evolves with the times."
"Offensively, they're a little bit like option football," Fleck said. "... They have fly sweep motion on everything. You've got to keep your eyes on everybody. You've got people down the field. You've got run game. You have skill everywhere."
Fleck said it's tough to fight the urge to look at all the film from Canada's tenure, not to mention hunches he might feel he has from their time together at Northern Illinois.
Canada said he saw how driven Fleck was to get a coaching job straight out of Dekalb, Ill. - before a short stint with the San Francisco 49ers - and how it's reflected in his Gophers teams.
"Obviously, P.J. has been a head coach for a while and his players have played extremely hard," Canada said Tuesday. "... You can see his characteristics are rubbing off on his team, so he does a great job."