Nearly two years of coaching staff continuity for Tennessee got thrown into flux on Thursday when offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian unexpectedly left the Vols for a position as the quarterbacks coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With that news now over 24 hours old, it’s time to look at what’s next and what this means for the rest of the staff. Immediately, the spotlight shifts to receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni. He’s at the top of many “hot boards,” including ours, as a potential in-house candidate to replace Bajakian.
He makes sense on a lot of levels for the Vols. He’s the only offensive staff member with legitimate experience as a coordinator. He was the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky in 2011, the passing-game coordinator at Florida in 2010 and has worn the hats of position coach and recruiting coordinator as well at various stops. It’s unclear if he’s ready to take the next step to be a full-time, play-calling coordinator.
But it isn’t that simple for Azzanni. As news of Bajakian’s departure broke, the Central Michigan head coaching job also came available with the departure of former head coach Dan Enos to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. Azzanni is a Michigan native, a CMU alum and a former assistant coach for the Chippewas. He could be a natural fit there.
SBNation reported on Friday morning that Azzanni would interview at Central Michigan. The Detroit Free-Press and FootballScoop.com have also linked Azzanni as a possible candidate at CMU. That leaves Azzanni, and Tennessee, with some interesting decisions to make.
Perhaps an elevation to offensive coordinator would keep Azzanni at Tennessee. But is it worth keeping a less-experienced Azzanni on as a play-caller to keep continuity and recruiting momentum on the staff? And if he does, how is the staff aligned? Would Azzanni be the WRs coach and coordinator and then hire a QBs coach? Is a co-offensive coordinator title for Azzanni and somebody else possible?
These are the decisions that Butch Jones must make in the coming days and weeks, and those dominoes could start falling, one way or the other, with what move Azzanni makes next.