Surprising Maryland excels under unusual circumstances

Maryland interim head coach Matt Canada walks on the sideline in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — When he first got the job as Maryland’s interim football coach, Matt Canada decided it would be best to handle the uncertainty of the position one day at a time.

The days turned into months. Now, with the Terrapins are halfway through their schedule, Canada’s status — and approach — remains unchanged.

“Right now, as a football program we’re working as hard as we can do the best job we can today,” Canada said Tuesday. “Tomorrow, we’ll see what tomorrow is.”

Working together under highly unusual circumstances, Canada and the Terrapins have put together a season that is far better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

Heading into Saturday’s game on the road against No. 19 Iowa, Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) has already matched last year’s win total and is just two victories away from becoming bowl eligible.

It’s quite an accomplishment for a football program that became unhinged in June, when offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke two weeks after collapsing during a preseason workout.

School President Wallace Loh acknowledged mistakes were made in McNair’s treatment on the practice field, and an independent investigation confirmed that assertion.

The program was also rocked by charges that the coaching staff bullied the players. The strength and conditioning coach resigned, and head coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August while an external commission investigates the behavior of the staff under his leadership.

Canada, in his first year as Maryland’s offensive coordinator, was thrust into the role of interim coach. His first college head coaching job has probably lasted longer than expected.

“We’re taking it day by day. We said that from the beginning and I think that was a good plan at the time,” Canada said.

The Terrapins been instructed by Canada to live in the moment and respect the past. The players honor McNair before every game by waving a big red flag with the No. 79 during introductions. When at home, they take a knee behind the end zone in a huge circle with No. 79 emblazoned in the middle.

“I’m certainly not an expert on the grieving process,” Canada said. “Everybody does it differently. I think our football players have worked very hard at trying to manage the loss of a friend and a teammate. They lean on each other, stick by each other, help each other through.”

Somehow, it’s all worked. Maryland remains the only team to defeat Texas this season, and the Terrapins also have blowout wins over Bowling Green, Minnesota and Rutgers.

The Terrapins hope the lessons they received in a 42-21 loss at Michigan will be helpful against Iowa (5-1, 2-1).

“We can take away that we played hard and I have to coach better,” Canada said. “You have to go play and beat those teams. The Michigan game, we didn’t do that.”

After that defeat, it was on to the next challenge. The Terps responded with a 34-7 rout of Rutgers — and almost immediately put that behind them, too.

“You don’t want to dwell in the past, whether it’s good or back,” senior defensive back Darnell Savage said. “After the game, you watch the film, make the corrections and you move on.”

In a very strange and difficult situation, the Terrapins have found a way to make it work.

“We are very proud of our players for the way they are doing it, and the way they’re playing hard,” Canada said. “It’s never going to be whatever we all want it to be, but it is going to be the best we can make it today. Do the best you can with what you’ve got and where you are.”

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