COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Matt Canada's job as Maryland interim football coach ended Saturday at soggy Penn State, where the Terrapins failed a fourth straight time to earn their sixth victory and bowl eligibility.
The 2018 season, however, will be remembered instead for what the Terrapins endured off the field and how Canada guided them through the unsightly mess.
After offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed during a practice in May and subsequently died of heatstroke, Maryland negotiated a tumultuous six months that included two independent investigations involving the football program, the departure of three athletic trainers and the firing of head coach DJ Durkin.
Canada, hired as offensive coordinator in January, was made interim coach in August after Durkin was placed on investigative leave. Along with preparing the team for 12 games, Canada's first head coaching gig included the task of helping his players deal with the loss of a teammate.
Whether he returns in 2019 after Maryland's 5-7 finish remains to be seen. The school will soon begin the search for a new coach, and Canada might be a candidate . But he might also end up being fired if the new coach desires a different offensive coordinator.
It will take much longer than that for Canada, the players and the entire program to comprehend the loss of McNair. University President Wallace Loh acknowledged that "mistakes were made" in the 19-year-old's treatment on the scene, an assessment that was confirmed by an external investigation.
"There's certainly been challenges, first and foremost the loss we had and dealing with that," Canada said. "That's horrible. That's indescribable. That's something that none of us are ever going to get over."
An investigation determined that the program had problems but was not toxic, leading the University System of Maryland board of regents to reinstate Durkin on Oct. 30. A swift and venomous backlash followed, and Loh subsequently fired Durkin on Oct. 31.
So Canada continued as coach in a season that began with a stunning upset of No. 23 Texas. A 63-24 rout of Illinois put the Terrapins at 5-3 before four successive defeats ruined their bid to extend a season dedicated to McNair.
A 24-3 loss at home against Michigan State culminated an emotional week of Durkin's return and dismissal. Maryland then fell 34-32 at Indiana and 52-51 against No. 9 Ohio State after a 2-point try in overtime went awry. Emotionally drained, the Terps succumbed 38-3 at Penn State.
"This season was filled with adversity, and battling through adversity," senior defensive tackle Mbi Tanyi said. "That's like the biggest thing we can all take from this season. We lost our teammate, and to keep battling through game in and game out, I can't say how proud I am of everybody who put the effort in."
Throughout it all, Canada credited the players and the coaching staff for keeping their focus in an unusual season. Before the season finale, he took a moment to look back at what they all accomplished together.
"I've had fun being a coach," Canada said. "The situation, the role and all that really has just been, well, you just kind of do your job where you are at the time. That's what I've done, that's what we've all done."
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