Edwards/Chow disciple ready to direct the offense

There is a lot of excitement around the football team about the new offense, but we've heard that before. John Mackovic came to town and claimed records would be shattered. The first season was promising, but by year three the offense was in shambles.

This story originally ran in the April issue of Cat Tracks Magazine. For more information call (520) 327-0705)

Now Mike Canales is the new offensive coordinator and Wildcat fans are once again hearing about how great the offense can be.

You can pardon the Arizona faithful if they are a little skeptical. Under Mackovic Jason Johnson set passing records, but that was about it. He told us how great the system was, but was the name John Mackovic necessarily synonymous with big-time college offenses?

To the casual fan Canales is not exactly the first name in offense, but how about Norm Chow? LaVell Edwards? You see, Canales is a disciple of arguably the two greatest minds in collegiate offense.

He's coached with both of those masters of the forward pass and has based his offensive philosophy on what BYU and now USC does. He was also instrumental in the high-octane offenses at NC State that made Philip Rivers a Heisman Trophy contender.

So just what will the offense be like? Maybe it is best to let Canales describe it.

"It's a multiple attack, multiple assault type offense," Canales explained. "We are going to try and utilize our best players and put them in a position to be successful. We are going to try and spread the ball out to a lot of different people so we are not trying to isolate one guy and allow the defense to take away that one person. I think you will see in a game anywhere from seven to 10 guys touch the ball. I think that creates balance and it creates problems for the defense."

The secret to the defense is flexibility. The offense is always changing, always evolving. Not just from game to game, but series to series. The goal is to always be one step ahead of the defense. No matter what the defense throws at you, the scheme is designed to have an answer.

"They have to prepare for a lot of different things," Canales said of opposing defensive staffs. "If they take away one guy, someone else is able and capable of carrying the load next week. If they say, 'hey we're going to stop the horizontal game,' they have to deal with the vertical game. If they try to stop us here, we go there. That's fine, because there are always answers. That is why every week we create an answer sheet. So if a defense comes out and we know what they are doing on the first two series, we go to our answer sheet. We know if they do this, we are going to do that."

It may be tough to recognize the offense from week to week. Canales insists the basic principles and plays are always the same, but the formations won't shed any clues. Don't get too attached to one formation, because you may not see it in play for quite awhile.

"Week to week it is changing," Canales said. "One week it is attack them short and horizontally and the next week it is attack them vertically and down the field. Every week it is something different in how we are going to attack them, with what multiple sets, with what personnel groupings, what different looks. Show them one thing and give them another. It's still the same offense. It never changes. You can still run the same things out of different formations and different personnel groupings."

The answer sheet is a key. The goal of the sheet is to have every answer for any defensive attack. It's like the Boy Scouts' motto: Always Be Prepared.

"A lot of it was from Norm and a lot of it was from when I went to NC State, we always had an answer sheet," Canales said. "If we were getting a heavy dose of zone blitzes we'd go to our part of the package that we thought could counter that. It's a game of chess out there, that's all it is. They do this, we do that. You do this, they try and do that. That is what it becomes. Our basic philosophy is we're not going to change what we do, we're just going to give you multiple looks. Each week you may see the same play, but you'll never see the same look."

This will essentially be the third offense the team has had to learn in two years. Last season the Wildcats began the year by running Mackovic's pro-style offense, but switched to a spread attack when Kris Heavner was named the starting quarterback before the Purdue game.

Now they have to adjust to a different version of the spread. With so many changes and concepts it could be expected the team might struggle with having another offense thrown at them, but instead they have adjusted very well.

"They are doing very well," Canales confessed. "They're getting it. I think what we have done is we've explained it like this, learn the concept. No matter where you fit in the formation, the concept never changes."

So far the players love it, but why wouldn't they. This is not an offense that keys in on one or two playmakers. The offense is designed to spread the ball all around the field to a number of different players. There should be many happy Wildcats this season.

"It's quarterback friendly, it's receiver friendly and it still gives a back a chance to run the ball," Canales said. "They all could have an opportunity to have 40 catches. That is what you like to do is create that balance.

"It could be anyone in this offense. That is what I tried to express to the offense when I first met with them. We don't know who is going to catch 10 balls in what game. It depends on what the offense gives us. There may be one game where Steve Fleming catches 10 balls, the next week it could be Biren Ealy, the next week it might be Mike Bell. It just happens that way. This offense allows everyone to touch the football."

It is also NFL friendly. Since the BYU days, players in this offense have excelled on the next level. Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Carson Palmer are just a few of the Edwards/Chow disciples who have been given a shot in the NFL, and many others are among college football's record holders.

"What they're learning is sophisticated and will get them ready for the next level," Canales boasted. "That is why I believe Philip Rivers will be very successful on the next level. He's been in the system. With what Norm Chow does, what LaVell Edwards did and what we do here, I think that is why they've been so successful."

Canales does not hide his roots. He has nothing but heaps of praise for his old mentors. He does not conceal the fact that he has learned so much from them. His ego is not so big that he will spend most of the time telling you how he took what they did and improved upon it. It is obvious he has made the offense his own, but he's not concerned whether or not everyone knows that.

More than the offense, the main thing Canales took from Edwards and Chow is how to deal with players. Edwards won a lot of games at BYU when he didn't necessarily have the best talent, but the relationship and bond of the athletes was always key. With the fragile psyche of this team over the past few seasons, that aspect will be significant.

"The most important thing I took from them is that the players win games, coaches don't," Canales explained. "A coach puts his players in position to make plays. You want to create an atmosphere where they can be successful and have fun at the same time, because winning is fun. That's what we try to bring to it. We're going to coach you hard, we're going to demand a lot, but we are going to love you up as much as possible. I think they understand that if you put a lot on them and you believe in them, they can accomplish anything. That's what I teach them.

"What I got from LaVell is that, no matter the odds, you still have a chance to win. As long as you can throw that football and keep it balanced, you have a chance to win. They didn't give us a chance in heck when (NC State) went into Florida State two years ago and we became the first team in the ACC to beat them at Florida State. We went in there and did it, we did all the little things."

The little things, that was important then. It's even more important now.

"We're creating a situation and presenting something to them so they can be successful in it and it allows you to have a chance to win."

This story runs in the April issue of Cat Tracks Magazine. Cat Tracks is the only publication devoted entirely to University of Arizona athletics. It is a 40 page, monthly, glossy magazine full of features, interviews and columns. For more information call (520) 327-0705 or e-mail us at cattracks@cattracks.net.

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