It’s not officially announced yet, but it’s a 99.9% likelihood current Utah State assistant head coach and running backs coach Mike Canales will be the next quarterbacks coach at Tennessee. To most, that name won’t register. I only know Canales as the North Texas interim head coach when Tennessee played them in 2015, winning 24-0. Thanks to Wikipedia and College Football Reference existing, I tried to answer potential questions and concerns below.
1. Mike Canales and Butch Jones are “great friends.”
This won’t exactly do wonders for the crowd wanting Jones to go outside of his friends circle. Canales was the interim head coach for North Texas in 2015 when they played at Tennessee, losing 24-0. Jones called Canales “a great friend of mine” after the game and later caped for him to get the full-time job. Canales did not get the full-time job. He’d take his current positions as the RB coach/assistant HC at Utah State, his alma mater.
2. He coached Philip Rivers for two years.
This will be the part everyone uses to defend the hire, but it might help to know some things first. Canales was at NC State from 2001-2002 and coached Rivers at that time. However, Rivers had yet to really break out. When Canales left, Rivers was fifth in ACC passing efficiency and adjusted passing yards per attempt. He was second in touchdowns (20), but also second in interceptions (10).
After Canales left, Philip Rivers became PHILIP RIVERS!. Rivers led the ACC in basically every single passing stat after his coach’s departure. There are two ways of looking at this: either Canales coached him to that level of potential, or Canales was holding him back. Really, only Rivers and NC State staff know. One would hope it’s the former.
3. His previous stops, in order: BYU, Snow College, Pacific, South Florida, NC State, New York Jets, Arizona, South Florida, North Texas, Utah State.
Whew, that’s a lot of jobs. Anyway, Canales has been a quarterbacks coach at all but three of those stops (BYU, New York Jets, Utah State). He also played quarterback at Utah State from 1981 to 1983. He’ll definitely provide experience – 29 years of it, in fact.
4. He’s lacking in notable quarterbacks coached outside of Rivers or positive metrics for the ones he did coach.
Canales dipped from USF right as they became an FBS school, so we don’t have much useful there. We’ve already mentioned Rivers at NC State. Here’s a list of the quarterbacks he directly coached at Arizona, USF, and North Texas: Richard Kovalchek (Arizona), Willie Tuitama (Arizona), BJ Daniels (USF), Derek Thompson (North Texas), Andrew McNulty (North Texas).
Ever heard of any of those five guys? No? Well, you’re in luck – you didn’t have to watch BJ Daniels play.
What’s brutal for Canales is nearly every team’s passing game trending upwards after he left. Tuitama completed just 56.6% of his passes under Canales, but 63.5% after his departure, including leading the then-Pac-10 in touchdowns the year after Canales left. Daniels was never good, but he went from completing 53.7% of his passes under Canales to 58.1% in the years following. North Texas’s passing offenses ranked 80th or worse in efficiency in five of Canales’ six years, bottoming out at 126th in 2015.
5. The talent-adjusted grades aren’t pretty.
As with Charlton Warren, I talked to my friend Adam McClintock at CFB Matrix about a potential Canales hire. Few in football are better at creating realistic expectations for coaching hires/fires based on performance to talent level. The results I got back from McClintock are really ugly:
I have Mike as a D-minus guy. . . . His results haven’t been anything worthy of a job like Tennessee. Although he has only had a positive roster talent discrepancy once in his career (2009 South Florida), the results have been equal to that poor talent more often than not. His end of year per play efficiency doesn’t seem to correlate to when he has had his most talented teams. The most talented team he had was that 2009 South Florida team and he underperformed his talent majorly.
6. However, he beat out Chris Weinke, Ken Dorsey, and others for the job.
Whether this will work out is impossible to say right now, but this is the most remarkable aspect of the hire to me. Butch Jones thinks Mike Canales is a better/smarter QB coach than a Heisman winner and an NCAA champion. Weinke specifically was the director of football at renowned IMG Academy for five years. Dorsey? Nothing big, just Cam Newton’s coach. If Jones truly believes Canales is better and it works out, this is genius. If not, this is yet another questionable hire at a critical position.