Coming off one of the most stable periods on the coaching staff in recent Tennessee history, the Vols confirmed on Thursday night that offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is leaving the program. He has since been officially named the quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We’d like to thank Coach Bajakian for his two years at Tennessee and his efforts in helping us rebuild this storied program,” head coach Butch Jones said in a press release. “We wish him much success with his goal of coaching in the NFL.”
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports first reported on Thursday morning that Bajakian was leaving Tennessee to pursue “other opportunities.”
Prior to Thursday’s news, Tennessee had been one of just seven schools in the nation with the same full-time staff since the 2013 season. Bajakian is the first full-time staff member to leave Butch Jones’ staff since former running backs coach Jay Graham left for Florida State prior to the 2013 season.
The Tampa Bay Bucs made the hire official on their end Thursday night, confirming the news via a press release of their own. Bajakian rejoins Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, who Bajakian was an offensive quality control coach under with the Chicago Bears from 2004-06.
Bajakian was also linked as a potential candidate for the Central Michigan head coaching job, which opened up on Thursday morning as well when former head coach Dan Enos departed to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. Reports circulated throughout the day that Bajakian was mulling that opportunity as well before officially heading to Tampa Bay.
Bajakian is the only offensive coordinator that Jones has employed in his career as a head coach, which dates back to 2007 and has spanned stops at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and UT. Bajakian’s offenses at Central Michigan (2007-09) were the three highest scoring ones since the program joined the MAC in the 1970s. He carried that success to Cincinnati, helping the Bearcats win two conference titles and leading up to a 2012 season where they led the Big East in scoring offense, rushing offense and yards per play.
He’s had mixed success in two years in Knoxville as the Vols have rebuilt an offense that was void of many playmakers when this coaching staff took over before the 2013 season. Using a talented and veteran offensive line, Bajakian led the Vols to 2,261 yards of rushing in 2013, the most the program had seen since the 2004 season.
After losing all five starters on the offensive line, Bajakian helped re-shape the offense in 2014. After drawing criticism in the middle of the season for a stagnant attack that failed to consistently run the ball and protect the quarterback, the Vols’ offensive numbers took off down the stretch under quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who replaced the injured Justin Worley, helping the Vols to a 4-1 finish and an impressive 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, where several school bowl records were set on the offensive side of the ball.
With 10 starters scheduled to return on that side of the ball in 2015, the Vols certainly have the look of what could be a potent offense in the near future. But that will now be led by somebody new.
One source at Tennessee indicated that current receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni could be in play for the-now vacant offensive coordinator position. Azzanni, who has worn multiple coaching hats in his career including offensive coordinator (Western Kentucky, 2011), passing game coordinator (Florida, 2010) and assistant head coach (Central Michigan, 2007-09), is entering his third year at UT and is the only current offensive staff member with coordinator experience. Azzanni has also been linked as a possible head-coaching candidate at CMU, however.