APU Alumnus Dave Canales ’03 Hired as Carolina Panthers Head Coach

After an athlete’s playing career wraps up, the pinnacle of professional sports is becoming a head coach at the highest level: the major leagues. Azusa Pacific University alumnus Dave Canales ’03 reached that pinnacle yesterday when he was named the head coach of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers. David Tepper, the Panthers’ owner, said “Dave's background is rooted in success. He has an innovative mindset and positive energy that connects well with players and staff. We are impressed with his ability to bring out the best in players.”

Canales will be tasked with coaching last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Bryce Young, and guiding the offense of the team that ranked last in the NFL this year to new heights. Canales becomes the only active Hispanic head coach in the league, and only the fifth in NFL history.

"I am extremely proud of David, and happy for him and the entire Canales family,” said APU Athletic Director Gary Pine. “He is an excellent leader, and he'll do a marvelous job of guiding men, both on and off the field."

Canales takes the helm of the Panthers after serving for one season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator. In Tampa Bay, Canales helped with the resurgence of quarterback Baker Mayfield. Before the season, Mayfield went from a former No. 1 overall pick to a perennial backup. Canales was not daunted by the task of reviving Mayfield’s career. Under Canales’ guidance, Mayfield passed for a career high in passing yards (4,044) and passing touchdowns (28), enhancing his reputation as a quarterback and likely earning a long- term contract.

Under Canales’ coaching, the Buccaneers offense as a whole improved from 25th in the NFL to 20th overall, seeing a sizable jump even after losing the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady, to retirement. Tampa Bay overachieved expectations, not only reaching the playoffs, but also knocking off the defending conference champion Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round before narrowly losing to the Detroit Lions in the Divisional Round.

Prior to Tampa Bay, Canales spent most of his coaching career in Seattle under future Hall of Fame head coach Pete Carroll. Canales started as a quality control coach for the Seahawks from 2010-12 before working his way up to assistant quarterbacks coach (2013-14), receivers coach (2015-17), passing game coordinator (2020-21), and quarterbacks coach (2018-19, 2022). During Canales’ tenure in Seattle, the Seahawks made the playoffs 10 times, winning the NFC championship twice (2013-14) and the Super Bowl once (2013).

Canales’ impact on the Seahawks offense and team success cannot be overstated. Former Seahawks star Russell Wilson was a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback with Canales’ coaching, earning nine Pro Bowl selections from 2012-2021 before he was traded to the Denver Broncos, more than any other quarterback in the NFL during that span. Canales also helped revitalize the career of quarterback Geno Smith in 2022. Smith had been relegated to being a backup from 2015-21. But after Wilson was traded, Canales transformed Smith into a Pro Bowl signal caller who achieved career highs in passing yards (4,282) and touchdowns (30) while leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.8).

Before Seattle, Canales served under Carroll for one year as an assistant strength coach and video assistant at the University of Southern California. Earlier, Canales spent three years (2006-08) at El Camino College as tight ends coach, special teams coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. Canales began his coaching career at his alma mater, Carson High School, after graduating from APU in 2003.

Going back to his playing days, Canales was a five-year member of the APU football program (1999-2003), serving as a team captain in 2002 and 2003. During his time at APU, the Cougars posted a 36-15 record and made three playoff appearances. As a wide receiver for the Cougars, Canales caught 27 passes for 298 yards and had a touchdown reception in his senior season. Canales graduated in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in business.

Canales and his wife Elizabeth “Lizzy” (Henderson ’05) have two children. Canales’ younger brother, Coba Canales (’06), played baseball and football for the Cougars, serving as a team captain for both programs; he is currently the dean of students at APU.

"The Canales family is extremely proud and excited about this new opportunity for Dave to continue his impact on lives through football as the Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers," Coba Canales said. "He's been blessed with many coaching mentors who have built him into the man he is today. He leads authentically from his faith in Christ and desire to bring out the best in everyone, which has garnered him success in the NFL in Seattle and Tampa. From starting as a volunteer JV coach at Carson High School and grinding it out for years until finally earning a full-time coaching role with the Seattle Seahawks, Dave and Lizzy have prayed their way through lots of ups and downs, victories and uncertainties, and have trusted God in the midst of it all. We're hoping for wins on the field because that's what keeps you there, but we know for sure that lives will be changed for God's glory."

Canales becomes the second APU alumnus to reach the pinnacle as a head coach of a major league team. Stephen Vogt ’07 was named the manager of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians in November.

“To have David leading the Carolina Panthers and his former classmate Stpehen Vogt at the head of the Cleveland Guardians says something about the type of student-athletes who come to Azusa Pacific, and hopefully some of the impact we have on them,” Pine said.

Read more about Canales’ background here.