An attention to detail

Mike Canales keeps notes on everything. He’s a statistics guy.

The USF offensive coordinator keeps tabs by scattering ideas and stats into files and notebooks. In these, Canales, who’s in his second stint on the Bulls’ coaching staff, keeps data on his players, whether it’s in practice or games.

“I do it all. From the time my guys step on the field, in terms of one-on-ones, individual drills, seven-on-seven or anything that has to do with throwing the ball, I’m keeping tabs on it,” Canales said. “The first thing my players want to do in turn is come in and evaluate how each day went, see what went right and what went wrong.”

He writes notes in journals, too. He’s done it throughout his coaching career. They are personal scribbles of ideas and new methods that allow him to go back and reflect on the road he’s traveled.

“I write a lot of notes to myself about the situations that are presented to me in my career,” he said. “I can go back and look at where I’ve been and see what I was thinking at that time. I’ll go back and see that I’m growing as a coach, a person, a father and a husband. You see how things develop, and you can branch on certain coaching points.”

Beginning his career:

“Chico,” as Canales’ known, was a member of USF’s original coaching staff in 1996, but began his coaching journey at Brigham Young University, serving as a graduate assistant from 1985-87 when he gained some of the ideas he carries today.

“I learned from some pretty good people … LaVell Edwards, Norm Chow and Mike Holmgren,” Canales said. “I still keep in contact with Norm. We talk once every couple weeks or so. But I’ll pick up the phone and really call anybody. I try and talk to different people about different things they’re doing.”

And his methods and influence have helped bring along an impressive list of football players.

After his first tenure at USF, Canales served as quarterbacks and passing game coordinator at N.C. State from 2001-02, mentoring NFL quarterback Philip Rivers and wide receiver Jericho Cotchery. Rivers threw for more than 3,000 yards and Cotchery had 1,000 yards in 2002.

Canales’ work in the college ranks then transitioned to the NFL, where he worked as receivers coach with the New York Jets under coach Herm Edwards. He churned out another 1,000-yard receiver — this time former Miami standout Santana Moss.

“All of those guys I coached were very self-motivated. They always wanted to come in with me and put in extra work. It was a great experience,” Canales said. “(Rivers) would live in the film room, you couldn’t get him out. But that’s what it takes to be at that level.”

USF wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan was also a receiver on the Jets team, and he remembers the influence Canales had.

“I really believed that he cared about every single guy. He’s cared about every single person he’s coached,” McGeoghan said. “That’s not to say other guys who coached in the NFL didn’t care, but coach Canales always went above and beyond in trying to build that relationship.”

McGeoghan, who accepted the receivers job at just about the same time Canales was promoted to offensive coordinator earlier this year, remembers the statistics, the dropped passes, the completions, the individual drills.

“He recorded everything, and we do the same thing (at USF) now,” McGeoghan said. “I think the kids really like it … there’s not ambiguity to who’s catching the ball or running routes. It creates accountability. That’s what you need — you need communication to be great.”

A roadblock:

To Canales, relationships are crucial.

He’s a father of six and a husband to Carol Canales, who suffers from a disease similar to multiple sclerosis that affects the central nervous system.

“That’s my heart right there. She’s my heart,” Canales said.

Carol Canales was diagnosed with the disease two years ago, said Canales’ son TJ, who is a quarterback at the University of Utah.

“It’s incurable. They can’t really treat it, either,” TJ Canales said. “We just have to deal
with it.”

For the Canaleses, their travels haven’t always been smooth.

The three years Canales spent at the University of Arizona, from 2004-06, serve as a lesson to this day.

Canales, as offensive coordinator, brought Arizona freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama to an honorable mention All-American mark, teaching him with the same methods he had always used.

But the team struggled, and in November 2006 Canales resigned. He said it was the toughest point in his career.

“When I got there, I knew it would be very challenging,” he said. “It was probably the lowest I had ever been as a coach, in terms of doubting my abilities. I learned a lot, though. I learned a lot about myself. It really made me a better coach.”

During that process, Canales wrote, putting his feelings, ideas and emotions to paper. He wanted to learn from the experience.

More than just a coach:

And, so, Canales returned to USF in 2007, accepting the role as passing game coordinator. Right away, he began building relationships with his players.

Carlton Mitchell, who was a freshman then, remembers the first day he met the newly appointed Canales. Mitchell was sitting in the Library, and Canales approached him. He just wanted to talk.

“I could go on for days about coach Canales,” Mitchell said. “The first thing that struck me about him was the way he carried himself — his professionalism was really impressive. The thing about Coach is that he’s more than just a coach to me, he’s been a father figure in my life … I went through some tough times transitioning into college, but he helped me get through all that.”

That very season, Mitchell led USF in receiving with 537 yards and four touchdowns.

Though Canales has influenced receivers like Moss, Mitchell and Cotchery, his area of expertise has always been quarterbacks. After all, he was a former college quarterback at Utah State.

Enter Canales’ most recent project — Matt Grothe.

The two have a healthy football relationship, and Grothe said Canales has greatly improved his quarterback skills. Grothe was a redshirt sophomore the year Canales came back to the program.

Throughout his career, Grothe, now approaching his senior season, has quarterbacked the Bulls to national attention and bowl game appearances in every year he’s started.

“(Canales) has been really good at being personal with his players, and we actually go golfing and hang out outside of football,” Grothe said. “It’s been fun learning under his belt, and I’m looking forward to it in the coming months.”

Aside from his coaching influences, Canales said he’s learned from a more prominent public figure — John F. Kennedy. He’s a huge admirer of the former president’s life, and has read many books on him.

But Canales learns from himself, too, through his notebooks.

He will keep his stats, and he’ll keep his journals, constantly scribbling ideas down for personal reminders of where he’s been and where he’s going.

And even to this day, Canales looks back through his memoirs to see how much has changed at USF between 1996 and his return in 2007.

“You just see where the program has gone, where it’s going and where it’s aspiring to be is amazing,” Canales said. “I remember the days where we were sitting on top of the press box, calling plays. We could literally call out to a receiver and he could hear us. Now, we’re at Raymond James Stadium and we’re playing all these teams. It’s amazing to look back and see where this program has gone.”