By USA TODAY High School Sports | June 20, 2017 8:50 am ET
The recruiting visit began with a simple photo request.
But not with Canales. He wanted a photo with The Bag.
A black backpack with an orange Power T on the front pocket, The Bag has become a social media sensation over the last three months.
Canales carries The Bag everywhere he goes, and recruits, parents, coaches and fans have started charting its travels.
The Bag has been held by flight attendants and served by Starbucks baristas. It’s been placed on a stair climber, ridden in a golf cart and sat in a restaurant booth. It’s visited numerous states, driven in multiple rental cars and accumulated hundreds of frequent flier miles.
“In recruiting, it’s all about trying to find a niche,” Canales said. “It’s about finding something that is different and unique and separates Tennessee and myself from everyone else in the conference. The Bag has done that. It’s really amazing how big it has become.”
— Coach Mike Canales (@coachcanales) June 11, 2017
Canales was hired at Tennessee in late January and immediately hit the recruiting trail. Known for his distinctive visor at previous schools, Canales first realized the power of The Bag while on a flight to California on April 30.
Seated in an exit row, Canales placed the backpack under an adjacent seat and took a photo to post on Twitter. A person quickly responded: “Coach, isn’t the bag supposed to be under the seat in front of you?”
“A light went off,” Canales said. “I knew I had to take this idea and run with it. I knew I had to make this a regular thing.”
— Coach Mike Canales (@coachcanales) June 4, 2017
Tennessee four-star quarterback commitment Adrian Martinez thinks he may have played a small role in the genesis of The Bag craze.
“My dad and I, when visiting Tennessee, saw The Bag in Coach C’s coaching office and we told him it was the nicest bag we had ever seen with a nice orange Power T on it,” said Martinez, a former Cal commit who committed to Tennessee on May 12. “Then, he posted it when he was on his way to see me and I knew it’d be his trademark from then on.”
Seeing the tweets marked #TheBag #GBO was a distinctive element in Tennessee’s recruiting compared to the other programs Martinez was considering.
“The Bag is something cool that Coach Canales does that you don’t see any other coach doing,” Martinez said. “It’s better to start something different and new, which is what Coach C did. He’s the type of guy all QBs want to play for. The Bag just reveals his great sense of humor and personality.”
— Coach Mike Canales (@coachcanales) May 23, 2017
The Bag’s social media presence has become a family mission for Canales with his three sons contributing from their homes in Utah and California.
“They really have gotten into it and are trying to find some outside-the-box things we can do to create some excitement,” Canales said. “It’s been fun to see the Canales boys give me ideas on how to use it next.”
The Bag has been recognized by fans and recruits across the country. While driving in Florida on a recruiting trip, Canales saw an SUV with a Power T sticker on the window.
“I sped up as fast as I could to get next to them and started honking at them. I grabbed the bag and put it up against the window and they went nuts,” Canales said. “I don’t know if they knew who I was or anything. But they just went crazy. I gave them a thumbs up and just rolled on through.”
— Coach Mike Canales (@coachcanales) May 13, 2017
One photo of The Bag Canales didn’t post publicly elicited one of his favorite reactions.
Flying on a small plane, Canales was sitting in the back near a flight attendant. He asked for a favor. Could she hold The Bag with a mean look on her face?
“I was on the phone with a recruit and I told him the flight attendant was really mad at me that I was still on my phone,” Canales said. “I sent him the picture before we took off and he was laughing so hard. It’s been great how helpful other people have been to make this work.”
— Coach Mike Canales (@coachcanales) May 12, 2017
Although Canales thought The Bag would be a unique way to connect with recruits, he never imagined the reaction would be so widespread.
He’s already brainstorming new photo opportunities for the next few months to ride the social media wave until it crashes.
No matter how long The Bag remains in commission, Canales plans to keep one secret closely guarded from inquiring recruits, parents and fans.
“They all want to know what’s inside,” Canales said. “But that’s part of the fun. I can’t let anybody know what’s inside. They all have guesses, but I won’t reveal anything.”