All Dave Canales needs to do is revive the Bucs’ offense and save Todd Bowles’ job

John Romano | That may be asking a lot for a first-time offensive coordinator, but that seems to be the situation in Tampa Bay today.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett, left, stands with Dave Canales, right, offensive passing game coordinator, during a 2021 practice in Renton, Washington.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett, left, stands with Dave Canales, right, offensive passing game coordinator, during a 2021 practice in Renton, Washington. [ TED S. WARREN | AP ]
Published Feb. 16, 2023|Updated Feb. 16, 2023

TAMPA — He was not your first choice, and I totally get that.

Dave Canales does not have name recognition, nor an eye-popping resume. He doesn’t have that WOW! factor that you were desperately hoping for when the Bucs began the search for an offensive coordinator nearly a month ago.

On the other hand, he has been entrusted with the rest of Todd Bowles’ career.

When you look at it that way, you’ve got to believe Bowles saw something special in a solid, but largely nondescript, resume. Because if Canales does not show promise in his first season as an offensive coordinator, Bowles may not be a head coach at this time next year.

It’s really that simple. It’s not quite a playoffs-or-bust scenario for Bowles in 2023, but there needs to be some sense that he is steering the Bucs in the proper direction after a listless and disappointing waste of an encore season for Tom Brady.

Maybe Bowles was blown away by Canales’ charisma. Maybe the guy’s football IQ seemed off the charts during his interview. Maybe every other candidate said, “No thanks,” when they got a closer look at Tampa Bay’s roster and salary cap.

Whether it was love at first sight, or the only choice remaining at last call, Canales and Bowles have tied their fortunes together.

In one way, it makes sense. Bowles seemed perpetually irked that the recently dispatched Byron Leftwich could not muster a running game to save his job, and Canales just might be the solution to that problem. He has spent the past 13 seasons at the side of Pete Carroll in Seattle, and few NFL coaches are more devoted to running the ball.

Related: Bucs hiring Seahawks’ Dave Canales as offensive coordinator

But his relationship with Carroll raises another question.

Canales was discovered more than a decade ago when he was a community college coach moonlighting as a part-timer at Carroll’s summer camps at USC. Carroll found him a gopher-like job at USC and then brought him along to Seattle a year later. Canales spent a handful of years in grunt roles with the Seahawks before steadily climbing the assistant coaching ladder.

By 2020, he had been promoted to passing game coordinator for a perennial playoff team with Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson. Canales’ career looked like it was about to take off at that time.

Except, a year later, Carroll fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And when he looked around for a replacement, he chose Rams passing game coordinator Shane Waldron instead of his own passing game coordinator. A year after that, the Seahawks hired a new passing game coordinator and Canales returned to his former role as quarterbacks coach.

Is that a red flag? It’s at least worth further review.

It’s also worth noting that Bowles has been in this situation before. After his second season as the head coach of the Jets, Bowles was on the prowl for a new offensive coordinator and spent 26 days interviewing candidates.

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The Jets had just finished 30th in the league in scoring, they were saying goodbye to a veteran passer, their quarterback heir apparent was an untested second-round draft pick and there were whispers that Bowles was on the hot seat.

In other words, that offensive coordinator job did not look terribly attractive.

And now, six years later, history seems to be repeating itself.

Related: 5 things to know about new Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales

Tampa Bay just finished 25th in the league in scoring, Brady has retired, second-round pick Kyle Trask is the only quarterback on the roster, and if Bowles is not on the hot seat going into 2023 then there’s something amiss.

Back in 2017, Bowles hired New Orleans receivers coach John Morton, whose most notable attribute was that he had worked for Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton. Bowles fired him less than a year later.

Now, after 27 days of interviews in Tampa Bay, Bowles is hiring another workmanlike assistant.

It’s possible that I’m reading too much into these two situations. But it’s hard not to notice that, in both instances, Bowles spent a lot of time looking for someone to take a job that didn’t seem very desirable to the hottest names on the market.

No one should expect Canales to walk into the offices located at One Buc Place and immediately transform an offense that sputtered even with the NFL’s marquee quarterback in 2022. Considering the number of free agents, the tightness of the salary cap and the uncertainty at quarterback, it would be a minor miracle if the Bucs flirted with another division title.

So, yes, expectations are muted. But it should also be said that fans will not be happy with an offense that sputters and spits again.

And if the fans are not happy, the Glazers are not going to be happy.

In that case, Canales won’t be the only coach looking over his shoulder.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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