Mike Canales Hire is Mixed Bag at Best for Vols

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    Photo Credit: North Texas

    Tennessee officially announced the hiring of Mike Canales as their quarterbacks coach on Friday afternoon. On some levels, the hiring of Canales makes total sense and can be looked at as a good hire by Jones and UT.

    But there are other facts that make this hire a mixed bag at best for Tennessee heading into the 2017 season.

    Hiring Canalaes as Tennessee’s quarterbacks coach makes sense on the surface when you look at the other staff change Tennessee made on Friday afternoon. UT officially announced tight ends coach Larry Scott had been promoted to offensive coordinator despite just being at Tennessee for one season and having no play-calling experience at the collegiate level. Canales, meanwhile, has 23 years experience as at least a co-offensive coordinator as a college coach. Not only that, but Scott played under Canales when Canales was first at South Florida from 1996-2000.

    Canales gives Scott an experienced voice to fall back on should he have any concerns or bumps in the road as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. But experience doesn’t always equal success, and Canales has had little in the way of that as offensive coordinator in the past.

    Canales was offensive coordinator for South Florida in 2009 and was some form of offensive coordinator for North Texas from 2010-15. Here are the national rankings his offenses achieved each of those seven years in terms of average yards gained per game:

    2009: 71st
    2010: 63rd
    2011: 96th
    2012: 67th
    2013: 64th
    2014: 117th
    2015: 118th

    Over his last seven years as offensive coordinator, Canales’ offenses were ranked 85th in the country on average. Granted, Canales was passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach for both the 2007 and 2008 South Florida squads that saw wild success on offense, but his effectiveness only went downhill from there.

    But Tennessee didn’t hire Canales as their offensive coordinator; they hired him as quarterbacks coach. And his track record there is a little more inspiring than his track record as offensive coordinator.

    While at North Carolina State from 2001-02, Canales, then just a quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator, worked with Philip Rivers. That’s the same Philip Rivers who’s gone on to throw for nearly 46,000 yards and 314 career touchdowns for the San Diego Chargers. Canales has also worked with South Florida’s top three quarterbacks in terms of passing yards in a career (Marquell Blackwell, Matt Grothe, and B.J. Daniels) as well as North Texas’ all-time leading passer, Derek Thompson.

    There are some caveats to that, however. Most notably with Rivers.

    Yes, Canales worked with Philip Rivers at N.C. State. But Rivers’ arguably two best seasons with the Wolfpack came when Canales wasn’t there. Canales was at N.C. State during Rivers’ sophomore and junior years, and what Rivers did in those years certainly wasn’t bad. Rivers completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 2,586 yards, 16 touchdowns, and seven interceptions as a sophomore and completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 3,353 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions as a junior.

    But it was in Rivers’ freshman and senior campaigns that he really stood out.

    Rivers completed 53.7 percent of his attempts for 3,054 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions as a freshman and then went on to complete an astounding 72 percent of his passes for 4,491 yards, 34 touchdowns, and seven interceptions as a senior.

    This, of course, doesn’t discount Canales’ work with the quarterbacks at USF or North Texas. Nor does it discount what he did with Rivers either. But Canales hasn’t been purely a quarterbacks coach since 1995 at Pacific College. Canales has coached quarterbacks in the meantime, but he’s always had something else attributed to that too, whether it was offensive coordinator duties or coaching another position. This will be the first time in over 20 years that Canales will be focusing purely on coaching quarterbacks.

    Another downside is Canales’ lack of experience at the Power-5 level both in coaching and recruiting.

    Of the three decades Canales has been in coaching, only five of those years have been spent at a school in a Power-5 conference. He spent two years at N.C. State and three at Arizona. Canales also spent a year in the NFL with the New York Jets as a wide receivers coach. The vast majority of Canales’ career, however, has been spent at smaller schools. And it’s been over a decade since Canales has coached at a Power-5 school.

    Aside from his one season in the NFL, Canales’ new job at Tennessee will easily be his biggest in this three decades of coaching.

    This hire, much like the hire of Mike DeBord as offensive coordinator in 2015, isn’t flashy. It’s a safe, comfortable hire for Butch Jones, and it’s one that he will ultimately be responsible for no matter how it turns out. Tennessee has two very talented, inexperienced quarterbacks on the roster in Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano who will be fighting for a starting job before this season. Canales will be tasked with guiding those quarterbacks and helping whichever one wins the job to become the best he can be.

    Even with talent like this available on the roster, making the wrong hire can set everything back. Just ask Phillip Fulmer about the 2008 season.

    There are things to like about the hiring of Mike Canales as the Vols’ quarterbacks coach. But there are also things that will rightfully leave you scratching your head. Only time will tell how this hire will actually turn out, but right now it looks like little more than a mixed bag of positives and negatives.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.