AZUSA, Calif. -- Former Azusa Pacific wide receiver Dave Canales, the 32-year old assistant quarterbacks and offensive quality control coach for the Seattle Seahawks, becomes the first former Cougar this week to participate in a Super Bowl when Seattle takes on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Canales played four seasons (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003) at Azusa Pacific as a wide receiver who posted career totals of 27 catches for 293 yards and one touchdown. After graduating, he coached quarterbacks at El Camino College from 2006-08 and served as USC’s offensive administrative assistant in 2009. He is now in his fourth year on Pete Carroll’s coaching staff in Seattle, where he and his wife, Lizzy (who he met in a Bible study at Azusa Pacific), live with their two children, Ashby and Benjamin.
The Azusa Pacific sports information office caught up with Canales as he wrapped up preparations for Seattle’s trip to New York for the Super Bowl.
Q: How did you get an opportunity to coach in the NFL?
Canales: During the three years I was coaching at El Camino College, I established a relationship with Steve Sarkisian when he was at USC, and I was able to work at some of the USC summer football camps. They offered me a video assistant job at USC for the 2009 season. After that season, Pete Carroll took the Seahawks job, and he needed some young guys to help him get some things organized, so he invited me to come up to Seattle.
Q: What’s a typical day in the office for you?
Canales: The typical day is long and crazy. Along with two other assistants, we are primarily responsible for making sure practices are set up properly. I do the pass drawings, and the other offensive assistant does run drawings, and we have to check them all to make sure they’re accurate. The first thing we do when we arrive in the morning is review the practice cards for our scout team and make sure we have enough cards for the plays that will be called. We roll into staff meetings where we review that information, and then we break into position groups. We’ll review plays, look at film of the opponent, and talk about any special plays that require different looks or attention. Then we go into a meeting for the offense, which rolls into walkthrough and then practice. We try to keep practice moving and flowing, to keep the team excited about what we’re doing. We finish practice and go back and watch it as a staff, come up with a new list of plays for specific situations, and then we design the plays on the computer.
On game days, I sit in a booth in the press box. I have a chart I use to write down our offensive play calls, and I will see what defense the opponent was in. I have a separate sheet breaking down special situations and keep that updated as the game goes on.
Q: Did you have a “Welcome to the NFL” moment where the significance of reaching that level of football really hit you?
Canales: My very first NFL training camp, I didn’t realize how much everyone relied on us young guys. In the second week of camp that year, at a time when everybody’s tired, where working 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for a week straight has everybody losing their mind a little bit, we went out to practice and were missing several of our practice cards. We didn’t have enough to finish a period, so everyone was scrambling and had to stop practice because of me. That was really embarrassing, but it was a pivotal point for me to realize how much of a machine I was involved in. If one cog was out of place, the whole machine would just stop. In coaching at high school or junior college, we could just skip something and move on to the next thing, but in the NFL every single play is important. It made me realize how much detail and energy goes into every single day at this level.
Q: Compare life now in Seattle to growing up and going to college in Los Angeles.
Canales: I’d never done anything this hard in my life before coaching in the NFL. This is my fourth year, and I have some calendars, schedules, and checklists for every single day that I’ve been using for a few years. I had to come up with them for survival, and now I’m able to just follow that checklist every day. The biggest challenge, though, is trying to figure out how to be a husband and dad while doing this crazy job six months out of the year. There’s no balance during the season.
Q: What are your favorite memories of college?
Canales: The group that my head coach Peter Shinnick created at Azusa Pacific was an awesome team environment, where everybody was together: offense, defense, and special teams. He encouraged us to “cross the ball,” to challenge each other and compete with each other. It was an amazing environment of love, support and respect that he created for us. One of the coolest things he shared with us was after we had flown back from a game. One of the flight attendants had written Coach Shinnick a letter that said we were the most courteous, thoughtful, and kind sports group she had encountered in 30 years of flying, and Coach Shinnick got emotional as he told us about it because that was so important to him. Those types of things stuck with me, and that’s the reason I coach. Those are the poignant moments of my career, knowing the impact the head coach made on me and that he was affecting the way we treated everybody else.
Q: What are some lessons you took from Azusa Pacific that you find valuable as you apply them to your coaching career in the NFL?
Canales: I learned to treat people with respect, and that meant everybody in the building. That was an expectation for us at Azusa Pacific. There cool part of it for me was that in addition to the toughness about us to do whatever it took to win, there was also a gentleness about us. I learned that playing at Azusa Pacific, and I’ve carried it through my coaching career. I want my players to be tough and hate losing, but I also want them to be considerate and courteous.
Q: How does your past experience compare with some of your fellow coaches whose careers included more experience at the professional and Division I levels before Seattle?
Canales: We’re all pretty much cut from the same cloth in terms of who we are; we are high-energy guys, and that’s who Pete loves to surround himself with. We bring an energy to our job that is unique, and we’re all very similar in that regard even though we couldn’t be more different from where we came from. At the end of the day, our personality is what brought us together.
Q: What characteristics did you develop at Azusa Pacific that have helped you throughout your career?
Canales: I learned how to put God first for my family, for my career, for my professional development. It might not be popular to stand for the things that we do, but it’s the one thing that has shaped and molded my life so completely, especially when you go into a life like this that’s so crazy. In my marriage, we both fight and scratch for ways to serve each other when we are not around each other all the time. That’s the lasting mark that I got from Azusa Pacific, that you can have excellence in all you do while serving the Lord.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about participating in a Super Bowl?
Canales: The game is going to be awesome – that goes without saying. It’s the biggest game of our profession, but this week I’m looking forward to hanging out with the guys I work with every day. We’ve been working like crazy since the third week of July, and whether we’re sick or tired, we still have to come put our work in. I’m looking forward to just enjoying this next week. These are memories we won’t ever forget. You work with guys who are your friends, and sometimes you never get to work with them again because they move on to other jobs and places. This is just a cool way to end a season with these kinds of memories.
Q: After making it to a Super Bowl after your first four years in the NFL, where do you see your own coaching career going over the next four years?
Canales: When we came here in 2010, Pete told us we’d be here. A lot of coaches are optimistic, but Pete had a specific plan for the pieces we needed to put into place. He talked to us in a way that made it clear that this was a real expectation he placed on all of us. If you were to take me back before coming to Seattle, I never would have imagined I would be on a Super Bowl coaching staff. This job has been a challenge for me, but in the next four years I hope I have an opportunity to become a position coach. It would be an exciting opportunity to have a position of my own, to coach quarterbacks or wide receivers in the NFL and contribute in that way.