June 7, 2017
This story originally appeared in the Spring, 2017 issue of Buzz magazine. Read the entire issue online or subscribe to the magazine here.
By Adam Van Brimmer
Paul Johnson enjoys hearing from his former players, never more so than when one is calling him about a job.
Especially those who, like new Georgia Tech quarterbacks and B-backs coach Craig Candeto, played quarterback for him.
The list includes current Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, both of whom played for Johnson at Hawaii; Michael Carter, another former Hawaii star; Georgia Tech A-backs coach/special teams coordinator Lamar Owens, who played for Johnson at Navy; Georgia Southern assistant athletic director Tracy Ham, Johnson’s first star quarterback; and now Candeto, a Navy man.
The attribute that made each of them an easy hire for Johnson is leadership. And in Candeto, Georgia Tech has a proven leader of men.
“You aren’t going to come out of the Naval Academy without knowing service and leadership,” Johnson says. “Then there are the experiences he had after he left Annapolis.”
Candeto’s post-academy assignment was as a fighter pilot. He spent five years training and serving, eventually earning a spot with Strike Fighter Squadron 106, known as the “Gladiators,” flying the supersonic F-18 Super Hornet.
Commanding a $57 million jet, landing it on aircraft carriers and meeting the other challenges a fighter pilot faces honed his skills.
“As an aviator, you have to focus on the details,” Candeto says. “As an athlete, but [also] in the cockpit, everything goes fast and checkpoints and assignments are on you pretty quick.”
Now he’s eager to share that knowledge of how to react and perform under such extreme pressure with the Yellow Jackets.
FOOTBALL COACHING FLIGHT PLAN
Candeto hasn’t flown an aircraft since leaving the Navy in 2009. Medication he was taking for a thyroid condition grounded him near the end of the five-year service commitment he made as part of his attendance at the Naval Academy.
He was discharged and immediately embarked on his second career: coaching.
He started as a graduate assistant at Austin Peay, then joined Johnson’s Georgia Tech staff in the same capacity in 2010. He was an offensive coordinator at The Citadel and a head coach at Capital, a Division III school in Ohio, before returning to Georgia Tech last year in a football operations role.
Johnson promoted Candeto to his current position earlier this year when Bryan Cook left the Georgia Tech staff to be Georgia Southern’s offensive coordinator.
“When I hired Craig for the operations job, it was with the idea that he would move back onto the coaching staff as soon as I had an opening,” Johnson says. “You have a chance to get a coach of his caliber, you get him.”
Candeto brings knowledge of Johnson’s version of the triple-option that may be second only to the head coach himself. Together, with Johnson calling the plays and Candeto under center, they turned the Navy program around in the early 2000s, winning eight games and earning a bowl bid in Candeto’s senior season.
Johnson expects Candeto will “coach the system the same way I do,” sure to make the transition from Cook to Candeto–and from three-year starter Justin Thomas to his as-yet-named successor–a smooth one.
GROOMING FUTURE LEADERS
Candeto’s immediate focus is less on Xs and Os and more on getting to know his players and earn their respect. He doesn’t want them to respect him simply because of his history as a star quarterback or as a fighter pilot, which “could mean something to one kid but to another it’s a hill of beans.
“I like to live in the present and I know each of them are motivated by different things and respond to different styles,” Candeto says.
He will espouse a mantra favored by both the military and his boss, Johnson: Doing the small things makes the big things happen.
Candeto is living proof that success comes from minding the details. He’s taken “a little bit of wisdom from each experience.” And by instilling that mindset in his new charges, Georgia Tech will develop new on-field leadership.
“Craig has always been a leader, but more importantly he’s a good person,” Johnson says. “I’m certain he’ll help make our players better men.”