Why Dave Canales could be the Panthers’ surprise hire as head coach

UPDATE (12:45 Thursday): Carolina pulls the trigger on Dave Canales, hiring the first-year offensive coordinator to be the next head coach.

DEVELOPING: TAMPA — Dave Canales’ work resurrecting the careers of Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield the past two seasons may earn him the chance to launch the promising one belonging to Panthers quarterback Bryce Young.

The 2023 No. 1 overall pick struggled as a rookie and could use the positive vibes from Canales, the Bucs’ first-year offensive coordinator who is interviewing in person today in Charlotte for the Panthers’ head coaching job.

It’s the second meeting with the Panthers for Canales, who interviewed virtually last week.

“This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Canales said last week when asked about becoming a head coach. “I have some stuff prepared that I’ve been thinking about for a couple years.

“I’m really fortunate to have been with Pete Carroll for 14 years (in college at Southern California and in the NFL with the Seahawks). His approach was grooming us for what the next thing is, to continue to expand our mind and be prepared when/if these opportunities come up.”

Carroll was fired by Seattle while Canales helped Mayfield rebuild his career and the Bucs returned to the playoffs after a third straight NFC South title.

This past Sunday, the Bucs lost 31-23 to the Lions in an NFC division-round game. Under Canales, however, Mayfield established himself as a productive starting quarterback by posting career highs in passing yards (4,044), touchdowns (28) and completion percentage (64.3).

Canales, 42, may have an inside track to the Panthers job. Carolina hired Dan Morgan as their president of football operations/general manager. He and Canales spent eight seasons together in Seattle and have remained close.

Rams defensive coordinator and former Bucs coach Raheem Morris will also get a second interview today with the Panthers, and Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero had one earlier in the week.

The Panthers may schedule a second interview with Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who did such a great job with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald also interviewed virtually with the Panthers but Baltimore hosts the AFC Championship Game this Sunday.

Former Titans coach Mike Vrabel is scheduled to interview Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

It would be a meteoric rise for Canales, who never was elevated beyond being the Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator during all those years under Carroll.

Joining the Bucs as offensive coordinator was an easy decision, though it was a tough transition to move his family from Seattle.

“That’s kind of the football part of it. The excitement of what could be and what could become of us,” Canales said during the season. “From the personal, family side of it, it was rough. Moving our family all the way across the country, about as far as you can get from Seattle, Washington, and my wife really holding it down for a couple weeks to where we can bring our kids. Then we had to find a school. Bopping in and out of hotels. ...

“But as we just settled into Tampa and meeting the community and meeting the people here in this building, the parks, the baseball teams — all those things really become a special place for us. And then of course, a new offense. Starting a new offense, getting those words down, getting the mentality down the right way. Playing the football that I envisioned we could become.

“It’s been a crazy year for sure. But also I’m just so blessed, so fortunate.”

The positivity Canales brings to an organization is also something Morgan and the Panthers may covet after an embarrassing 2-15 season. Canales has said his faith enabled him to prosper during his first season with the Bucs.

“For me, it starts with my faith,” he said. “It’s about this amazing story that the Lord is telling. It’s about the timing of being here. It’s Baker, for this moment. And so for me, that allows me to rise above the pressure of you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. I know there’s high expectations every single week. Nothing is promised to us. But if I can just keep the big picture of just how amazing this moment is? Then it just dissolves and allows me to stay focused.”

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Instagram, X and Facebook.