When the general public thinks of college football coaches they immediately think of the Head Coach, then the OC or DC and if they’re really big fans they’ll know the position coaches. But with very little public exposure or interviews, the average person doesn’t know too much about the graduate assistants behind the scenes. Now the life of a Graduate Assistant (GA) isn’t a very glamorous one but a role every team in college football couldn’t go without. As a GA, in season, you’re tasked with a massive list of time sensitive tasks all the while having to juggle the rigorous studies of getting your Masters Degree. From handling scout teams, drawing up plays, creating presentations, making game plans to even “unrelated” tasks like class checking and making sure the position coaches players are making grades. As a former coach I’ve seen it all. If you weigh 6hrs of sleep or a regular eating schedule as high priorities then this lifestyle isn’t for you.
Through all the difficult tasks of being a GA, what is lost on the public is how close the GA gets to the players and how much of an impact a good GA can have. Graduate Assistants spend the most time around the players. And in some settings, with how often they are dealing with things outside of football for the players, the relationship can be unmatched. And when I think of great relationships, one coach comes to mind. John Cannova.
John Cannova is in his 2nd year as the Offensive Graduate assistant for Texas Tech Football, where he focuses on helping coach the Offensive Line. O-Linemen have a way of sometimes going unnoticed in the public eye but with Cannova’s help it’s been just the opposite. In just 6 years of coaching, Cannova has helped coach 16 All-Conference Offensive Linemen while also getting to see his starting Tackle from last season (Terence Steele) emerge as a starter for the Dallas Cowboys.
Success on the field for Coach has been more of a byproduct than a main priority for him. Saying “I just want them to be successful in all areas of life. I see myself as a motivator on the field but at the end of the day I have to be a mentor for these guys off of it.”
And that rings true, even from one his most decorated players and former captain for the Utah State Aggies.
He believes that setting a standard for his players is very important. On the flip side, being able to help the next generation of coaches is also something that he holds in high regard. Because he’s been in their spot before and getting into the coaching industry can be difficult. Looking back at his first job in coaching, as an Offensive Line coach at St. Ambrose in Iowa, Cannova has some great advice to give future coaches.
“Absorb everything. There’s so many unknowns in coaching. Ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes, and recruit everyday.”
Staying grounded and focused on the task at hand is also something Coach reiterates. Which is something that can be difficult in the college football world as there are always a lot of different roles you may have to play.
“Don’t look ahead, be where your feet are. Players always come first“
This season has been difficult for even great teams all across America but at the foundation of a great program are coaches that put their players’ well-being at the forefront. And this is something reiterated by a multitude of Coach Cannova’s former players.
“You won’t find someone more invested than John Cannova. He has always helped me add more tools to my toolbox in my pass sets and in run game, all while increasing my Football IQ. He’s an even better person off the field. You are able to go talk to him about anything and he’ll be there to listen and give advice.” – Terence Steele
That is high praise from a former player, especially one that plays for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
We look forward to shining a light on the Athletic Administrators, Coaches and support staff that help put Student-Athletes first through these difficult times. To see more articles like this, check out our page “Dear Younger Self”. And if you’re interested in leaving a quote on the site. Send an email to Worth.Gregory@Gametgi.com .