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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Faith-Inspired Rise of Dave Canales 

How Tampa Bay’s innovative Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales, fueled by faith and heritage, discovered his calling


A makeshift football field devoid of white lines leaned against the inner-city backdrop of a local park in Carson, California. Screams of delight whizzed through the cool spring air as boisterous teens ran on the grass. A 12-year-old boy kneeled in the dirt just yards away and beamed at his clipboard. He scribbled offensive formations and defensive zone structures on the page, emboldened by his penciled strategy. The young sports almanac rolled up his sleeves and glanced at the page for one last snapshot. His eyes danced reviewing the route concepts. He leisurely jogged towards the congregated huddle in the middle of the field and delivered instructions as the "all-time quarterback," making sure the plays were run correctly. Then the group of teens staggered into position, mimicking their favorite NFL stars. In that unassuming moment of utter captivation for a game, the boy with the clipboard grinned. As the echo of the whistle reverberated, the trajectory of his life shifted.

That vivacious 12-year-old was Dave Canales.

From the nostalgic playground in a Carson community brimming with cultural diversity to patrolling the sideline in a celebrated stadium, Dave Canales has manifested a dream. His commitment to ensuring the future of the sport through player development and offensive inventiveness sparked a meteoric rise in the coaching ladder. Canales' leadership prowess, innovative approach, undeterred mindset and ability to inspire have been apparent since adolescence. He has deep roots forged in football and has ignited a flame between the hashes. Despite the winds of change always blowing through the NFL, his mission remains constant - molding the next generation of men who don the NFL emblem on and off the field through transparency. Canales' hands-on contribution to the game has propelled him to the pinnacle of his career: offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"The emotions, camaraderie and physicality - all combined - had me hooked from the beginning," Canales stated. "I wanted to give back and train athletes, especially football players. I wanted to give them the training that I did not have at my disposal early on."

In February of 2023, the Buccaneers hired Canales as their new offensive coordinator, replacing Byron Leftwich. Todd Bowles, a defensive guru who moved into his second season as head coach with the Bucs, selected a candidate who would be as aggressive in nature on the offensive side of the ball in running the football. Canales began installing a system built around achieving balance in a quarterback-friendly scheme. The system - with similarities to the Seahawks, Rams and 49ers - employs different concepts out of similar looks to keep defenses off-kilter. In the current era of the NFL, the horizontal-stretch has gained popularity in the league encompassing misdirection, outside-zone, jet-motion and bootlegs.

Canales has not only embraced the modern trends but has tailored the reimagined system around the Bucs' personnel. The new doctrine in Tampa Bay is centered around building the ground game through a variety of run schemes to set up the passing game from under center/shotgun and play-action sets out of similar pre-snap looks. The addition of motions, jet sweeps, reverses and end-arounds are geared towards creating confusion for the defense and generating voids to exploit. Canales earned the opportunity of calling plays for Tampa Bay and has accentuated quarterback Baker Mayfield's strengths on the gridiron. Much like the childhood fantasizer who was routinely overlooked, Canales has embraced the "underdog" narrative surrounding the Bucs in 2023 to spark rejuvenation.

"He had the foundation for what he wanted to install but he is always open to new ideas and learning," said Mayfield. "In our QB room, he is never saying, 'I have it all figured out. Let's stick to my plan.' He is open to new ideas and any way that we can generate plays off plays - things that might look like similar route concepts. He is receptive to adding new concepts, making tweaks here and there. He always has a smile on his face. He is always looking to improve and get better in some form or fashion. He has genuine authenticity, and it is not fake. A lot of people can try and put on a front to appear like that, but he really means it and is constantly that positive. He just wants to help out in any way he can, and never acts like he has it all figured out. There is just a vulnerability there in showing that you are flawed. There is always room for improvement and just his total approach is unique."

TAMPA, FL - August 22, 2023 - Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 and Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during 2023 Training Camp practice at AdventHealth Training Center. Photo By Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Throughout his life, football and faith became the integral driving forces that grounded Canales, providing purpose. From 1999-2003, Canales was a wide receiver and a two-time captain at Azusa Pacific University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in business. Upon leaving Azusa Pacific, Canales dabbled in selling commercial real estate for a year and subsequently went into the cowboy boot-making business, an occupation he picked up from a friend. In that role, Canales could not ignore the gnawing sense of unfulfillment that permeated his mind. Daily, the thought, 'This gig is not for me' crept in and monopolized his mind. When the opportunity arose for Canales to serve as the junior varsity head coach at his alma mater, Carson High School, Canales discovered his destiny. That initial stage sparked a voracious passion, propelling Canales forward to the NFL's doorstep.

"He has always had a genuine love of people and meeting people where they are at," said Dave Canales' wife, Lizzy. "He is always present and wants to connect with people. That is one of the things that drew me to him. The things he comes home to talk to me about are not the plays or, 'We are doing this or that.' He will come home and say, 'Wow. I had a conversation today and it was just a total God thing. I was late from the sauna because I ran into so-and-so, and he opened up to me.' Dave is in the moment, fully engaged and right there with you. He was the same way coaching JV. He would be up, walking around Super K-Mart the night before a game at two in the morning buying athletic tape because he wanted all of the players to have it, not just the ones who could afford it. He wanted everyone to feel included and valued. That is the same model that he has applied to coaching in the NFL."

TAMPA, FL - August 11, 2023 - Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the preseason game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs lost the game 27-17. Photo By Mike Carlson/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Canales made the transition from high school to college coaching in 2006, joining El Camino College, where he served as the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator during the first year, before making the jump to quarterbacks coach during his last two seasons. During that span, the school won the California College State Championship (2006) and solidified two Mission Conference titles. At El Camino College, Canales forged a relationship with Pete Carroll, the head coach of the USC Trojans. In 2009, Canales joined the USC coaching staff, where he served as an assistant strength coach for one year. During that stint, Canales gained mental fortitude.

"Dave has always loved exercise physiology so much that originally he wanted to open a training facility for rising athletes," said Lizzy Canales. "He has an uncanny ability to assess a player's physical characteristics and skillset pretty accurately just by watching them play without looking at stats or profiles. In coaching, he has always had a way of knowing an individual's strengths and weaknesses. His attention to detail is a reflection of the various roles he has held throughout his career. The time he spent as a quality control coach was one of the best things for him because it taught Dave to train the mind. His ego isn't the driving force behind how he coaches, which allows him to do a great job of delegating/taking self-inventory. He has an outstanding internal evaluation of, 'Okay, these are the things that are important and if they are not in my skillset, then I am going to find the right person who is best at it.' He has this motto: 'I am going to work on your weaknesses until it becomes a strength, and I am going to work on your strengths until they become second nature.'"

TAMPA, FL - August 11, 2023 - Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the preseason game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs lost the game 27-17. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

That philosophy paid dividends for Canales, and it garnered a life-altering promotion to the grand stage. In 2010, Pete Carroll accepted the head coaching position with the Seattle Seahawks and brought Canales with him. The door opened, and Canales seized the rare opportunity. He filled a variety of roles while in Seattle, including wide receivers coach (2010-2017), quarterbacks coach (2018-2019, 2022) and passing game coordinator (2020-2021). Canales spent 13 seasons with the Seahawks and won his first Super Bowl title when Seattle defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. He was credited with helping to restore Geno Smith's career, playing a pivotal role in Smith's 2022 breakout campaign as Russell Wilson's successor. That season, Smith led the league in completion percentage and threw 30 touchdown passes while earning his first career Pro Bowl nod and NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. In addition, Canales played a crucial role in Wilson's production for nearly a decade in the Emerald City.

Canales' unwavering determination and stout work ethic derived from the gritty "Mexican-American migrant farm worker" principles that he was raised on. The paradox of two cultures running through his veins prompted not only a broadened outlook on the world through various lenses but an insatiable desire to accomplish unimagined aspirations, as his father and grandparents achieved. His father, Isaac, became a moral compass that shaped Canales' foundation on faith and motivated him to shatter preconceived notions of what is plausible in life. The old adage, "dream big," was normalized and preferred in the Canales household.

Canales' father contracted polio as a child and nearly died. Isaac Canales never had full use of his right arm and was unable to play sports as many others did without reflection. Instead, Isaac's passions took him on the academic route. He grew up in the projects, a barrio of Los Angeles in the '60s, and eventually made his way to a prestigious institute: Harvard. Isaac came back and along with Dave Canales' mother, Ritha, raised three children.

16X9 Canales and parents

"My dad encouraged my brothers and I to dream big and hustle," Canales stated. "His P.I.E. (Plan, Implement, Execute) approach has helped me to put my vision into reality. He also taught us to marry up - marry someone better looking and smarter than you, which was good advice."

Isaac's unorthodox yet wondrous path epitomized the 'American Dream,' along with the origin story of Canales' grandparents. His grandmother, Lupe, and grandfather, Miguel, came illegally to the United States as children separately. They later met through church and gained citizenship through the Army. Their arduous road and perseverance through adversity influenced Canales, fanning the flame.

"My grandmother Lupe, affectionately known as 'Mamich,' was five or six years old and was reunited with her dad In the United States, who was already in Bakersfield, California. working in the fields," Canales stated. "My grandfather Miguel, 'Papich,' came as an adolescent teen with his brother to join their mom who was getting remarried to a man who lived in the Bakersfield area. They met as young adults at church, my grandfather joined the army to gain citizenship, which made his wife and children American citizens. Resourcefulness is another trait my grandpa passed down - legend has it he fixed the fan belt of their Station Wagon using my grandma's pantyhose on I-5 driving through the grapevine - I take the same approach to make the most of what I have in football with personnel, plays we are good at, etc.

"They also instilled faith in Jesus through hard times," Canales described. "God will provide. My grandpa found pride in all types of work. He always said, 'All work is noble.' There is no job too little or too great. They gave me the ability to take on menial tasks as well as big responsibilities with the same respect to the job at hand. I could sense that he was right based on the people I grew up around. They found pride in having a job, any job. It is a point of pride in my heritage that as Mexican-Americans, whatever our hands find to do, do it with pride and do it to the best of your ability."

His grandparents founded Carson's Mission Ebenezer Family Church in 1959 and now, Canales' brother Josh is its third senior pastor. Faith is the unquantifiable framework that governs Canales' life and that of his family. Rooted in Christ, Canales aims to radiate God's love. He surrendered his life to the Lord, experienced God's endless grace and now strives to pay it forward. God did not call Canales to the altar or to the pulpit, instead, He called Canales to another vocation in pro sports. The field is his sanctuary. For Canales, the greatest way to be an influence for Christ is through the pursuit of excellence in coaching.

"My grandparents were church planters and missionaries to Mexi-Cali (Mexican side of California border)," Canales recalled. "They would travel, my grandpa would preach, and my grandma would sing. They served families and spread the love of Jesus through meeting simple needs, whether food, water, clothes or shelter. They started several churches in Southern California, but the last version of Mission Ebenezer Family Church found a community in Carson, California that needed them. I learned that wherever I go, to meet the most basic needs that my immediate community needs from me. That is the cornerstone of how Lizzy and I bring all that we are to the Buccaneers."

Dave Canales and his wife, Lizzy, met while attending Azusa Pacific. While Lizzy spent a semester abroad in Bolivia working for a nonprofit as part of her curriculum in global studies, the two became email pals when Dave reached out to ask Lizzy on a date when she returned, the relationship blossomed and a powerful, undeniable connection formed. The two got married in 2006 and welcomed four children, Ashby, Ben, Bea and Amaya.

16X9 Canales family

"I remember the first thing I noticed about him before we ever started dating when we were just friends and that is his smiley, laughing face and the twinkle in his eye," Lizzy described. "You see it when he watches football. That is just who he is. It is not an act. It is not some façade he turns off and on based on circumstances. He has this uncommon ability to relate and just to talk to people. Being present is his superpower and that is what I have learned from him the most – being in the now. In the time he spends with the kids, he is intentional and fully gives of himself."

In coaching, Canales embodies the same genuine, unpretentious nature, bursting with energetic enthusiasm on the field. He approaches every day as readily as a fresh set of downs that evokes exhilaration. From a little boy with a clipboard and a lofty dream to the offensive coordinator donning a headset for the Buccaneers, Canales aims to empower those around him through authenticity.

TAMPA, FL - August 11, 2023 - Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the preseason game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs lost the game 27-17. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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