Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer
Before practice on Tuesday afternoon, newly appointed interim head football coach Mike Canales walked into the locker room wearing shoulder pads and a helmet.
It’s that kind of energy and enthusiasm that Canales, whom his friends, family and players call “Chico,” hopes to bring back to the North Texas football team,. This is especially true after an 0-5 start that led to the firing of head coach Dan McCarney after a 66-7 blowout loss at Apogee this past Saturday.
“What we need to change is, let’s go have some fun,” Canales said. “That’s what we have to do. And when it happened four or five years ago, I tried to make it as fun as possible, and our kids responded. I hope they’ll do the same.”
This will be Canales’ second stint as interim head coach of the Mean Green. The offensive coordinator was also given the job midway through the 2010 season when then head coach Todd Dodge was fired after a 1-6 start to the year.
Before he was named interim head coach, Canales served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, a position he has held since he arrived at North Texas in 2010.
“This place means more to me than you could ever imagine,” Canales said. “And I’m hurting. I am. So what am I going to do? I’m going to pick myself back up. I’m going to keep fighting. That’s what Coach Canales is about. And I’m going to try and bring that back to this program.”
Graduate assistant Mason Y’Barbo is as familiar with Canales as anyone that plays for the Mean Green. Y’Barbo, a former offensive lineman, played for Canales when he was interim head coach in 2010 and then for McCarney in 2011. He said the two have their own style and own way of running a football team.
“Coach Mac, you know, he’s set in his ways. He has his expectations. He’s been real successful doing what he has done for a number of years,” Y’Barbo said. “Coach Canales, he’s bringing a whole new energy. He refuses to not let guys be enthused about what we’re doing. He really harps on doing everything as a team in order to win.”
Y’Barbo, a team captain and second team All-Conference USA player, said he can attest to Canales playing an up-tempo, aggressive offense.
“He’ll open things up,” Y’Barbo said. “He wants to take a shot every now and then, and you need to do that to keep the guys in it. Play to win. What we’ve been doing this season hasn’t been successful, so let’s try something that will hopefully light a spark. If you take a shot and hit a big play that can change the whole game.”
But despite the new boss’ upbeat personality and passion for the game, emotions still linger from McCarney’s dismissal. With North Texas on a short week and playing the University of Western Kentucky on Thursday night, the timing of the decision left some players in tears.
Senior defensive back Zac Whitfield said McCarney was like a father figure to many players and the team will rally around their former coach the rest of the year.
“People were very emotional. You got grown men crying,” Whitfield said. “But we have to come back and give it our all and make everything for [McCarney].”
Whitfield and the North Texas defense have been repeatedly torched throughout the season, ranking near the bottom of many defensive categories in all of NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision .The team also ranks last in scoring defense by giving up 49.2 points per game and total defense, allowing 547.4 yards per game.
Whitfield said Canales has emphasized several techniques in practice this week to help combat the highly potent Western Kentucky offense, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum as the Mean Green ranking atop C-USA in yards per game and points per game.
The Hilltoppers come to Denton boasting senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, who ranks second in all of college football in passing yards. He also leads a passing attack ranked third in the nation, averaging over 10 yards per completion.
Canales said while Western Kentucky is an excellent team, North Texas is playing with house money and has nothing to lose. And although beating WKU is a daunting task, he is ready to lead North Texas into battle.
“It’s going to be like the Green Bay Packers coming in here. It’s going to be tough,” Canales said. “But it is what it is. It’s life. We’re going to line them up on Thursday night and give it our best shot.”
Canales said becoming a head coach has always been his dream, although achieving it by watching his close friend receive a pink slip was not his most ideal path.
But Canales said he will not concern himself with what could happen at season’s end and will instead turn his attention to trying to win football games.
“The first time, I wanted the job. I did.” Canales said. “But right now, all I’m concerned about is our kids. And I want them to have some success. I can’t worry about the future. I’m not promised tomorrow.”
Featured Image: Interim Head Coach Mike Canales watches as the football team goes through walkthroughs before practice begins on Oct. 13. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer