‘A secret life’: Panthers coach Dave Canales’ book about his marriage is an eye-opener

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New Carolina Panthers head coach Dave Canales is also a published author — but the book he co-wrote is not about football.

Instead, Canales and his wife, Lizzy Canales, co-wrote a deeply personal, faith-based book called “This Marriage? The Question That Changed Everything.”

The book was published in September 2022, while Canales was still a fairly obscure assistant coach with the Seattle Seahawks. It contains numerous revelations about Canales’ private life but has gone almost completely unnoticed in NFL circles.

In the book, Canales, 42, admits to having had multiple affairs earlier in his life. A portion of the book concerns his sexual infidelity and how the couple worked their way through it — partly through counseling, which they advocate — and eventually found their way back to a Christian-based marriage.

Canales also described in the book the addictions he once had to both pornography and alcohol. He also wrote that he no longer has any of these issues, that he has stopped drinking completely and that he and Lizzy have resurrected what is now a thriving marriage. The couple has four children.

How they got to that point, though, was quite a journey, and one they shared in vivid and sometimes painful detail. By doing so, they wrote in “This Marriage?”, they hope to help other struggling couples.

Canales was named the Panthers’ new head coach last week but won’t have his introductory press conference in Charlotte until Thursday. He has not yet spoken to Charlotte-area media and the Panthers wouldn’t grant my request to make him available to comment on this story. My understanding, however, is that the Panthers were fully aware of the book and its contents during their head-coaching interview process.

Lizzy Canales (left) and Dave Canales, the Carolina Panthers’ new coach, published a faith-based book in 2022 that detailed their struggles in their marriage and how they overcame them. Many of their issues were caused by what Canales writes was his “secret, silent struggle.”
Lizzy Canales (left) and Dave Canales, the Carolina Panthers’ new coach, published a faith-based book in 2022 that detailed their struggles in their marriage and how they overcame them. Many of their issues were caused by what Canales writes was his “secret, silent struggle.”

A sample passage from Chapter 5, in a section that Dave Canales wrote: “I cheated on Lizzy for the first time at my bachelor party one month before we got married. From the start of our relationship, I was binge drinking and going out with my friends, without Lizzy. Before I was ever unfaithful to her, I was already there in my mind. Bad habits combined with addiction made it hard for me to resist temptation.”

Dave and Lizzy Canales wrote in their joint preface about their purpose for writing the book, which was published by a small publisher in Washington State.

They wrote: “We wanted other people to feel safe starting this journey toward a vibrant marriage by helping them see they are not alone. .... Just as we have done with our friends around the kitchen table, we offer our heart and soul in our story to give you hope that you, too, can find a way forward to something better.”

‘A crack in the door for deceit’

It isn’t that the book’s subject matter is particularly unusual. Problems with infidelity, alcohol and pornography are common in American society, and so are books about Christian marriages. What is uncommon is that Canales is now a first-time NFL head coach who has written an in-depth accounting of his own personal flaws and how he overcame them, making himself vulnerable in a way that the people in America’s most popular sports league rarely do.

With the book, Canales flung open a door and let people peer into the figurative skeletons in his closet. I read the book in one sitting and was astounded about every other page by the level of detail.

“I was living a secret life,” he wrote, and later returned to that theme of secrecy several times.

“No matter how hard I tried by going to church, reading my Bible and praying,” Canales wrote of his early years of marriage and coaching, “I always had a secret, dark place that was just mine.”

Canales wrote, for instance, that he sometimes used to pretend he wasn’t married when he was going out at night with friends.

“I would be out with my friends and take my ring off, acting like I was single depending on who was around,” Canales wrote. “This didn’t happen all the time, but I left a crack in the door for deceit.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales, center, stands along the Carolina Panthers sideline on Jan. 7, 2024. Eighteen days later, Canales, 42, was named the Panthers’ head coach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales, center, stands along the Carolina Panthers sideline on Jan. 7, 2024. Eighteen days later, Canales, 42, was named the Panthers’ head coach.

Canales talked about some of these same issues in a 2021 “Beyond the Game” interview with Tony Dungy, who would later write the foreword for “This Marriage?”

Of his drinking in Seattle, Canales said to Dungy: “I started to get all this stuff in my mind about, like, ‘This is how I’m going to get ahead in this profession. I’m going to go to the (scouting) combine and going to drink with the guys. I’m going to be one of those people that they can count on to be a wing man. ...’ That’s the lie I really started to buy into. ... While I wasn’t drinking all the time, when I did, I drank a lot. And I didn’t realize what I was doing. And looking back I realized, like, that was a form of alcoholism.”

Canales and his ‘secret, silent struggle’

Canales didn’t specifically discuss his infidelities in the 2021 interview with Dungy, but he did at length in the book. Among the other stark scenes in “This Marriage?”:

After admitting his unfaithfulness to Lizzy at a marriage conference — the other women with whom Canales cheated are never identified — Canales also tells both his parents and then Lizzy’s parents of his unfaithfulness. While supportive of his honesty, his mother-in-law also said when told of the affairs: “I never trusted you fully. I’ve told Lizzy that, and now I know why.”

Lizzy said once to Dave after he had told her of his infidelity: “I have something hard to ask you. Was any of your sexual activity unprotected?”

“Yes,” Canales wrote that he said. “Lizzy, I am so sorry.”

This led to them both taking medical tests to see if they had any sexually transmitted diseases (they didn’t). Soon afterward, Lizzy Canales found out she was once again pregnant.

In another section, Dave Canales wrote: “Lizzy called out our broken marriage and I made some pretty dark confessions: I needed to stop pursuing sex outside of my marriage and I needed to stop drinking as much as I was. ... A huge part in the severed intimacy that I was experiencing with Lizzy was because I was addicted to pornography. It was like a gateway drug for me, creating pathways in my brain that allowed me to use sex coldly for my own benefit. It was a secret, silent struggle that I had years before I was married.”

Dave Canales, the new Carolina Panthers head coach, shown while he was coaching at Tampa Bay in January. Canales and his wife Lizzy co-wrote a book about their marriage struggles in 2022 called “This Marriage? The question that changed everything.”
Dave Canales, the new Carolina Panthers head coach, shown while he was coaching at Tampa Bay in January. Canales and his wife Lizzy co-wrote a book about their marriage struggles in 2022 called “This Marriage? The question that changed everything.”

After his general declaration of unfaithfulness, Lizzy talked to Dave some more weeks later, wanting to know specifics. She had already suspected some of his infidelities.

“She nailed every event,” Dave Canales wrote. “I told her what happened and with whom. Some of the women I was involved with were close to home and some far away. I told her the darkest and ugliest secrets of my life — some so dark I don’t want a single other person to know.”

Canales also called himself a “recovering narcissist” in the book and said he has had to “work very hard at developing the skills necessary to be aware beyond myself and my needs.”

‘Welcome to our mess’

Canales wrote about the challenge of publishing the book while coaching in the NFL and being a public figure, although he wasn’t nearly as public a figure then as he has become in the past week.

The book was published about four months before Canales was hired as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, a one-year gig in which Canales was so successful for the playoff-bound Buccaneers that it led him to earn the Panthers job last week.

At the time of the book’s publication, Canales was two big steps away from being an NFL head coach, but he took those steps in the next 15 months by first getting an offensive coordinator job in Tampa Bay and then, after a single year as an OC, getting hired by owner David Tepper for the Panthers’ head-coaching job.

Dave and Lizzy Canales wrote in their joint preface to the 2022 book that the couple decided to publish “This Marriage?” in hopes that what they called “sharing our scars” would help others.

“We had to really think about how exposed we would be as a couple who already existed in a very public profession,” Canales said. “Sharing our scars meant being willing to tell people the truth of how our marriage failed.”

Along with Dungy’s foreword, NFL quarterback Russell Wilson —who was coached directly by Canales in Seattle — contributed a positive blurb. So did a number of well-known Christian faith leaders. There isn’t much football in the book. The meat of it is almost all about the Canales’ marriage story.

Of the NFL coaching profession, known for its 16-hour days, Dave Canales wrote: “I’m not saying my profession was at fault for my waywardness. However, it definitely gave me more opportunities to make bad decisions.”

The couple writes that their marriage is now stronger than ever. The process they underwent, according to Lizzy Canales’ writing in the book, equated to: “burning down the old marriage and bringing forth something entirely new from the ashes.”

As the couple wrote in their foreword: “Welcome to our mess and the beautiful way that God has worked ALL THINGS together for us.”