Archive for year 2010

Q&A with Mike Canales, Former Utah State QB

CollegeGridiron365.com recently hooked up with Mike Canales to get his unique perspective on the Utah State-BYU rivalry, home field advantage, developing college quarterbacks, and general insights about the college game.

Mike Canales is one of only two Utah State quarterbacks in the past 28 years to engineer a victory over BYU (20-17 in 1982 in Provo). Following his playing days with the Aggies, Canales began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Brigham Young University where he learned from legendary offensive coach Norm Chow. He has been coaching for the past 25 years and has tutored five different quarterbacks who have achieved All-American recognition.

Mike Canales

While he was the offensive coordinator at the University of South Florida he helped quarterback Matt Grothe became the Big East Conference career leader in total offense. Prior to that, he was the offensive coordinator at the University of Arizona for three years and under his leadership QB Willie Tuitama earned freshman All-American honors. Canales’ offense at Arizona was ranked in the top 10 nationally and he earned National Offensive Coordinator of the Week in 2006.

As passing game coordinator at North Carolina State, his offense finished in the top 10 nationally in passing offense and competed in two postseason bowl games. Under his watch at NC State, he helped develop QB Philip Rivers into a two-time All-ACC player and Heisman Trophy candidate. Rivers is currently an All-Pro signal caller for the San Diego Chargers of the NFL.

Canales’ resume also includes stints as quarterback coach at the University of the Pacific, wide receivers coach for the NFL’s New York Jets and offensive coordinator at Snow Junior College where he had a top 10 nationally-ranked offensive unit in seven of his eight years.

Canales is currently in his first year as the offensive coordinator at North Texas. His son Tyler is a freshman quarterback on the Utah State roster currently rehabbing from an ACL injury suffered last year.

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CG365: Mike, you are one of only two Utah State quarterbacks to defeat BYU in the past 28 years. What did that win feel like to you back in 1982 and what does it mean to you now?

MC: Anytime you can beat an instate rival, it benefits your program in many different facets. The first thing that comes to mind is recruiting; the ability to attract student athletes from the Rocky Mountain area to strengthen your local support is invaluable. Having played at USU and beginning my coaching career at BYU I have mixed emotions, but let me make this perfectly clear: I left a lot of sweat and blood on that field in Logan with my teammates. I am Aggie Blue through and through, “Go Aggies, Beat those Cougars!”

CG365: From your perspective as QB and team leader, what was the key to winning that game vs. BYU in 1982?

MC: The key to winning that game in ‘82 was managing the game with great decisions, eliminating turnovers and having great ball control. The team that won that day was able to run the football. We controlled the game, kept the ball away from their high-powered passing game and won the time of possession. Once we were in control of the game, our defense was fresh and able to put pressure on Steve Young. We had a pretty good defensive football team.

CG365: Both of the Utah State wins over BYU since 1982 have taken place in Logan. How important is the home field in the rivalry with BYU?

MC: I have always felt with rivalry games that the home team has a 7- point advantage before the game begins. The fans’ enthusiasm and support amp up your emotions and your desire to be successful. Playing at home is big and gives you a mental advantage. Look at the games in ‘81 and ‘83 played at BYU. We lost both games by less than 6 points (32-26 in 1981 and 38-34 in 1983).

CG365: Can you share particular insights about home field advantage in college football?

MC: I have always felt home games give you a great advantage in Special Teams play. Players get excited about making great plays on Special Teams in front of their home crowd. Most special team players only see the field during a handful of plays during a game. It’s important that they are rewarded and singled out when they make plays in this part of the game. I think playing at home gives you a 3 to 7-point mental advantage before kickoff.  As coaches, we try to spin it in a way that your players understand the importance of coming out strong and getting the home crowd involved early.

CG365: When you were QB at Utah State, the Aggies played BYU extremely close a couple three straight games, more than any other team during that time frame. What do you attribute that level of competitiveness to back then vs. BYU?

MC: When you play your rival you always step up your focus and attention to detail during the week of preparation. You would like to think that everyone would do that week in and week out, but you have to remember that you are dealing with young men who are easily distracted. In addition, you have to remember that players from both BYU and USU often played together in High School or against each other in their high school career. When you are familiar with each other, the fear of failure lessens. You play with more confidence and looser as an athlete.

CG365: BYU is extremely vulnerable this season with a freshman QB, new players in several other positions, and reeling from 3 straight losses. Utah State is defending home turf with a dangerous QB in Diondre Borel. How do you see this game playing out?

MC: Advantage goes to the Aggies in the QB Position. The first thing I would look at is who has the best Defensive Line, who is more productive and who has the ability to disrupt an offense. They always say Defense win Championships and Offense fills the stands, but heck, I say, “Defense give me the Ball, we’ll control the game and score points and we’ll Win Together.”

CG365: Considering your graduate experience at BYU and having witnessed the attempts to replace the string of great QBs that ended with Robbie Bosco, how difficult is it to be under the microscope of the media and fans as a Cougar QB?

MC: I was able to witness it first hand, and have seen it throughout my career. The QB is your most valuable player on the team – he has so many roles on the field and off. Having one with great character, leadership and ability to stay poised and humble through the ups and downs is invaluable. With the exposure of collegiate sports now and explosion of internet websites, it’s hard to protect your players from negative gossip in cyberspace. It is also important to understand that back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s BYU was one of the few teams in college football that lived by the pass. Now you turn on the TV and 80% of your teams are in the spread and throwing it around like it free fries with your purchase of a Big Mac. Your best QBs are going other places, choosing not to be in a place where certain rules have to be followed.

CG365: If you were the offensive coordinator at BYU, how much time would you give a true freshman QB like Jake Heaps to develop before you considered giving your #2 QB a shot at leading the team?

MC: I don’t feel comfortable answering this question because I’m not coaching either of those kids or working with their coaches. I truly don’t know the situation at BYU. I would go with the player that gives our team the best opportunity to win. Having coached with Bronco, I believe he is doing what is best for his team.

CG365: From your experience at Arizona, USF, and NC State, is there a standard or typical progression in a QB’s skill set that you expect to see him develop in order to compete successfully at the Division 1-A level?  How long should it take for a D-1A quarterback to reach their potential?

MC: First he must become a student of the game. It moves faster than High School and when you reach the NFL level it is at Warp Speed. The quicker the player adjusts to the speed of the game the quicker he develops. You look at the top programs like USC, Alabama, Florida and Oregon and many others, and they all practice at a High Pace and Tempo. You can go to a practice and see teams practicing 1st Team O vs.1st Team D and this drives competition and focus on the practice field. “Practice fast to play fast.” You don’t see a lot of good teams practicing against scout teams anymore, it creates bad habits and slows down the speed. The best teams service each other, much like the NFL. We have incorporated it here and it is making us better as a team. It makes you tougher and accountable to each other.

CG365: The pistol offense and variations of it are becoming the rage in college football right now. What type of offense are you running at North Texas State?  If it’s the same type of offense you utilized at USF and Arizona, why do you prefer to deploy it?  What are the attributes of your offensive attack that you like the most?

MC: I would say prior to all the injuries we suffered this season (9 Offensive Players), we were a mix of Oregon/and Florida. We have installed a majority of our schemes from USF and mixed it with what they did here last season. We have two outstanding running backs so we are creating ways to get our best players the football. We are nothing similar to what we were at Arizona. Jim Leavitt once told me he thought the spread mixed with power running schemes is the toughest to defend. In recent years I have tried to implement that philosophy and found it to be very successful. See our stats vs. Clemson this season. We had 462 total yards against the best defensive team in the ACC last season.

CG365: How has the college game changed the most since your playing days?

MC: Better players, size and speed is becoming a big factor. Speed wins and everyone is looking for it. The spread offenses are the norm and the Pistol is making its way across college football. Pretty soon defenses will catch up to the spread – most of them are getting to that point. Then we’ll see another cycle of offense schemes being developed.

CG365: What do you foresee might be the biggest changes in college football during the next 5-10 years?

MC: We’ll have a play-off system. I think it’s necessary and will bring more dollars to college football. I believe we will see Super Conferences emerge as well.

CG365: One more question – who do you enjoy coaching more, student-athletes or professional players?

MC: Hands down, I enjoy coaching student-athletes and the college game more. Your success isn’t measured just by wins and losses. It’s helping young men grow up to become good husbands and fathers and productive members in society. Have you ever seen Kenny Chesney’s music video “The Boys of Fall?” You have to see it. It captures a lot of the passion I have – the love I have for the game. I got all teared up when I first saw it.

Kenny Chesney’s music video “The Boys of Fall”

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