Carolina Panthers Hire AG Prodigy Canales
A former worship leader whose heritage in the Assemblies of God stretches back five generations is the new head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
The Charlotte-based NFL team announced the hiring of Dave A. Canales on Jan. 25.
His father, Isaac Canales, served as pastor of Mission Ebenezer Family Church in Carson, California, before retiring in 2019. His grandparents, Miguel and Lupe Canales, founded that South Los Angeles church in 1959. Dave’s brother, Joshua Brubaker Canales, is now the pastor of the predominantly Hispanic megachurch, which is part of the AG’s Southern Pacific District. The Brubaker and Wagner families on the side of his mother, Ritha, began serving as AG pastors and world missionaries more than 90 years ago.
The Mexican-American Canales, 42, will be the only Hispanic head coach in the NFL next season and just the fifth in history.
The athletic, articulate, and telegenic Canales served as a bivocational worship leader at the church for five years until 2008 before pursuing a full-time gridiron career. He worked the following year as assistant strengths coach at the University of Southern California under Pete Carroll.
When Carroll became head coach of the Seattle Seahawks the following year, he invited Canales along. Canales spent the next 13 years as an assistant coach for the Seahawks, the first eight years working with wide receivers.
Some sports analysts found Carolina’s hiring curious, given that Canales only has one year under his belt calling plays as an NFL offensive coordinator. Yet during the 2023 campaign for Tampa Bay, journeyman quarterback Baker Mayfield set career marks in completions, passing yards, and touchdowns. Likewise, while Canales served a four-year stint as quarterback coach and passing game coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, longtime signal callers Russell Wilson and Geno Smith had their best seasons.
In announcing the hiring, team owner David Tepper pointed out the new coach’s innovative mindset and ability to connect with players. Although only at Tampa Bay for one year, the Buccaneers won the NFC South title. Panthers General Manager Dan Morgan, who worked with Canales for eight years in Seattle, said the new coach’s infectious personality resonates with players.
The rapid rise to the top after toiling in relative obscurity for over a decade thrilled his parents and siblings.
“Dave is a man of God and He loves the Lord,” says father Isaac, who led Mission Ebenezer for 41 years. “His Assemblies of God heritage on both sides of the family is the foundation for his faith in the Lord.”
Isaac, 74, is chancellor of the AG’s Latin American Bible Institute College in La Puente, California. He notes that Dave has made no secret of his faith.
Josh, 45, says he and his brother have talked and prayed about Dave’s elevation to becoming a head coach. He isn’t astonished that it happened, but he is surprised at the timing.
“The way he became the head coach of the Carolina Panthers took us all by surprise,” says Josh, who has been a leader in racial reconciliation. “It’s nothing but the hand of God. People took notice this past season of my brother’s faith and character on and off the field.”
In addition to older brother Josh, Dave has various relatives involved in leadership at Mission Ebenezer, which conducts services in both Spanish and English. Younger brother Coba is on the preaching/teaching team, while also serving as dean of students at Azusa Pacific University. Mother Ritha, a credentialed AG minister, leads women’s ministry and the welcome team. Josh’s wife, Bunmi, is head administrator.
Dave, who now is immersing himself in Carolina staff and player personnel decisions, has his work cut out for him in a high-pressure profession. The Panthers finished the 2023 season with the worst record in the National Football League at 2-15, including back-to-back shutout losses the last two games. Despite the presence of 2023 No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young, a Heisman Trophy quarterback, the Panthers offense ranked worst in the league, tied for scoring the fewest points. Tepper fired head coaches during both the 2022 and 2023 seasons. However, Canales received a six-year contract, making another such early dismissal unlikely.
“Serving Jesus as a coach in the NFL isn’t for the feint of heart,” says Josh, who spent three years playing minor league baseball (for the Dodgers and Astros) before yielding to the ministry call in 2003. “But Dave is a pastor to his players, where his faith can be on display.”
Dave and his wife, Lizzy, met at Azusa Pacific University, where Dave played football. They have four children: Ashby, Benjamin, Beatrice, and Amaya. Josh says that Dave and Lizzy have made church involvement a priority wherever they’ve lived.