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In Dave Canales' first day on the job, he takes a detour to see the future

Dave Canales

MOBILE, Ala.—Dave Canales's first day on the job as the Carolina Panthers newest head coach did not take place in Bank of America Stadium. It didn't even take place in Charlotte, or for that matter, in North Carolina.

Instead, 574 miles away, Canales posted up in front of a partition, settled in to watch a host of prospects during the first session of the 2024 Reese's Senior Bowl practice, and discovered first-hand what it means to be a head coach in the National Football League.

Canales and new Panthers general manager Dan Morgan were in Mobile, Ala. on Tuesday to get an up-close look at the 2024 NFL draft class. The Senior Bowl is practicing all week at Hancock Whitney Stadium, so that is where Canales wanted to be. He is the only new head coach this hiring cycle who was on hand in Mobile, making him a hot commodity for those perusing the concourses.

Wide receiver and defensive back drills would draw the coach's attention; then a former colleague would drop by to deliver congratulations. Seven-on-seven drills would pull the former offensive coordinator's eye, while radio hosts would circle, wanting even just a word from someone who holds one of only 32 such jobs in the world. One of the quarterbacks on the field would make a downfield throw that would elicit a chuckle from Canales, as a college coordinator would stop short to introduce himself to the Panthers headman.

As scouts who worked with Canales at previous stops (Seattle and Tampa Bay) would circle by, they'd express little surprise that the longtime position coach, and most recently coordinator, had earned a head coaching role at only 42.

Dave Canales

By the second practice session, Canales and Morgan made their way down to the field, listening in while watching for possible picks for the Panthers in the upcoming draft. Even there, though, the coach was still someone everyone wanted a moment with, hoping for insight into where Canales hoped to take the organization. Mike Garafolo of NFL Network put Canales on his list of coaches around the league who could become head coach in the near future. On Tuesday, as Garafolo and other NFL Network Insiders picked Canales' brain, he had to laugh at how quickly it happened.

"He was on my list for 'going to be a head coach.' Didn't know it would be this early, but here we are," joked Garafolo.

"What he did offensively (in Tampa) was awesome; atmosphere, culture-wise, did a great job of that. You guys have probably experienced his mentality, his positivity already. That's something that people think is going to make him a great head coach."

Dan Morgan, Dave Canales

It was a jump right into the fire for the first-time head coach, though, while his boxes remained unpacked back in an office he has yet to see in Charlotte. Tuesday, though, was an opportunity for the head coach to meet a crop of prospects face-to-face, something that has been a defining characteristic of his coaching career.

"All of these guys (in Tampa), it just felt like, spoke so highly of (Canales), and that doesn't happen if you try to square-peg-in-a-round-hole these players and you're not getting the most out of them, they're not getting the targets they want, they're not getting the usage, they're not having success as a team. And it just didn't feel like that was the case," Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus noted. "Ultimately, what decides is who's a good offensive coordinator, what makes a good head coach is, you must be able to do this across the whole roster.

"And now he's not only going to have his hand on the offensive side of things, it's going to be the defensive things as well. Looking at how he handled things with his offensive players, it gives you faith that even on the defensive side of the ball, he is going to be fluid to what these guys do best."

Less than 24 hours after walking off the field in Mobile on Tuesday afternoon, Canales will be in Charlotte, stepping into the Panthers' facilities for the first time and beginning to lay the foundation for the future. But first, he took a detour to introduce himself quietly to the league and see that future up close.

View photos of Dave Canales during his successful previous stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks.

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