Barring something surprising on the Ben Roethlisberger front, the biggest news of the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers figures to be the fact that they made a change at offensive coordinator, opting not to renew the contract of Randy Fichtner, who had held the job for the past three seasons, and promoting Matt Canada, who was hired to be the quarterbacks coach in 2020.
Fichtner, like Canada, was the Steelers’ quarterbacks coach at the time of his promotion in 2018, and in fact retained that dual role through 2019 before Canada was hired. The former had served in that position since 2010, and had been on the staff since 2007.
Although Pittsburgh actually held the top-ranked red-zone offense in 2018, Fichtner’s tenure as offensive coordinator had not been highly-regarded at all, and there was little surprise when he was let go. But now the question is what will change under Canada, who spent almost all of his career up to this point in the college ranks.
John Clayton recently appeared on The PM Team to talk about the Steelers, and he shared his thoughts on Canada and on trends at offensive coordinator in general around the league. “I think it may make it a little less predictable. Clearly Ben’s gonna have a big voice in this offense, promoting from within”, he said.
Clayton spent a good deal of time noting that, over the past several cycles, many teams have been seeking out head coaches who were offensive coordinators and who retain play-calling duties, like Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns did this past season.
As a result, he notes that much of the play-calling experience around the league has dried up, making it more difficult to find ‘veteran’ play-callers, and instead it has resulted in teams looking for other options, paired with the fact that many long-time play-callers have been retiring.
“It seems like what everybody’s doing right now is trying to find 37- to 41-year-old guys who may have not called plays, but then giving them the opportunity, particularly with an experienced quarterback, to try to be able to work through that”, he noted.
While that may technically apply to Canada at the NFL level (and he is actually 49 already), he has extensive play-calling experience at the college level. His first time serving as offensive coordinator goes all the way back to 1997, and he’s held that job at Northern Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, NC State, Pittsburgh, LSU, and Maryland since then.
Having spent the 2019 season out of coaching, many NFL teams sought out Canada for advisory assistance regarding insight into offensive trends in the college game, so he was clearly somebody who was valued in NFL circles. He did receive an interview for an offensive coordinator position prior to the Steelers announcing his promotion. But we won’t know how he performs until September.