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One Door Closes, Another One Opens

April 29, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– Being grounded and having one’s feet on the ground are not the same; one’s bad and the other good. Paul Johnson’s first quarterback at Navy knows.

Craig Candeto, who was a graduate assistant coach at Georgia Tech last season, entered the Naval Academy in the fall of 2000 and ran the offense in the ’02 and ’03 seasons under Johnson before graduating in ’04. Then, he chased and caught a dream. He became a Navy pilot.

The sky-high experience did not go the way he envisioned it. Though he loathes doctors and clichés, Candeto eventually had no choice but to go see the former and he has come to live the latter.

Now, he’s a full-time assistant coach at The Citadel. Before catching that dream, the first one ended in something of a nightmare. A chemical imbalance made flying difficult.

“I got my wings and starting flying the Super Hornet,” he said Friday. “I fought through [the condition] a long time without ever doing anything about it. It just got to where I couldn’t concentrate as well as I needed to. I don’t like the doctor, but I had to go because it wasn’t safe for me and everyone else.

“I knew they were probably going to prescribe me something that wasn’t going to allow me to fly, and that’s why I fought so long.”

The Navy grounded Candeto early in ’09, and offered him any of several positions with one twist: he could not fly. That didn’t fly for him. He sought his release, and it was not easy to land. Finally, the Navy complied and he started chasing another dream – coaching.

First up: a graduate assistant’s position at Austin-Peay in ’09.

“I didn’t know if they were going to let me out. They were going to make me serve even though I wasn’t going to fly,” he said. “Fortunately, those Navy lawyers had plenty of [officers], and they gave me my release. I took a $78,000 pay cut to go into coaching. Money is not everything.

“You’ve got to make sacrifices to do what you love. My dad’s a high school coach. My passion really started getting lit when I was at Navy. I knew it was going to be a tough road because that’s how it is in coaching. It won’t be all good times.”

Maybe not, yet Candeto sounds like he has an unshakeable bug in his system.

Citadel coach Kevin Higgins tried to hire him on more than one occasion.

“When I was at Austin-Peay, I interviewed for a restricted-earnings position at The Citadel, where they were putting in the option offense,” Candeto recalled. “At about that time a G.A. position came open at Georgia Tech. I could be the quarterbacks coach on restricted earnings at The Citadel, or B-backs coach as a G.A. at Tech.”

He went to work for Tech head coach Paul Johnson, his former coach.

Within weeks, Higgins called again. He really, really wanted Candeto to help transition into the option.

This time, the offer was a staff position as wide receivers coach. Candeto – the military man in him still alive — said, “I felt like I had made a commitment to coach Johnson, and I had to stay for a year.”

His time at Tech was grand, he said, but not nearly easy. “I was bringing home $600 a month,” he said “My wife had to get to work. We’re in a lot better financial situation now.”

That’s because Higgins didn’t give up. Early this year, he called again.

“My wife and I were out to dinner, and I missed the call,” Candeto said. “We stayed in touch, and usually when he’d leave a message he say, `Just calling to check up on you.’ This time it was, `Hey Craig, call me back as soon as you can.’ “

Another staff position had opened at The Citadel, where an assistant moved onto N.C. State.

Candeto interviewed, got the job, and his first official day was the start of spring practice. He’s coaching quarterbacks and fullbacks.

“Actually, they pushed practice back a day to get me on staff,” he said. “I’ve been living outside of [Charleston, S.C.] in the beach house of an alum at the Isle of Palms. My wife was still in Atlanta as Dan Radakovich’s administrative assistant for a while.

“We got on-campus housing about two weeks ago, and our stuff came about a week ago, and now I’m on the road. It’s recruiting season. It’s been a whirlwind.”

Chalk one up to understatement.

The option The Citadel aspires to run is quite like Tech’s although it has a modest role for a tight end and much of the terminology is different. The career is a heck has changed a lot, too, in a good — no, great — way.

This pilot misses the thrills of flying, yet Craig Candeto is a man with his feet planted firmly, and happily, on the ground.

“[Leaving the Navy] was something that I didn’t want to happen, because I put in a lot of time,” he said. “It’s been a fast track, but I’m a little bit older. I’m 29. I would look back at times [as a G.A.], and I’d say I could have been a position coach now if I didn’t go into the Navy, but I wouldn’t trade my time in the Navy.

“I wouldn’t change how it went down because I met tons of awesome people, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and life. I hate clichés, but you’ve heard the one about how when one door closes another opens. That’s me. I’m not one to wait around. I went looking for another opportunity.”

This is a good story, Candeto’s I mean. What do you think? Thoughts to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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