KNOXVILLE – When new Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian stands on the Vols’ practice field for the first time, he might look a little out of place.
In the midst of 300-plus pound linemen and finely-tuned athletes all over the field, Bajakian, a former math teacher who often looks the part with glasses and a skinny frame, will be in charge of directing the Tennessee offense in 2013.
He might say a few unusual things in the meeting rooms as well.
“Even in the quarterback room at times he’ll step back and teach us an equation,” Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux told GoBearcats.com this fall.
Added Bajakian: “I always joke about vector analysis, results and forces.”
That might sound a little too nerdy for the taste of some die-hard football junkies. But Bajakian’s knowledge goes well beyond square roots, geometric proofs and obtuse angles.
The former quarterback at Williams (Mass.) College has 17 years of offensive coaching experience. After humble beginnings as an assistant coach in high school, he worked his way up through various stops at small colleges and as a graduate assistant. He helped at Rutgers (1998-99), Sacred Heart (2000) and Michigan (2000-01) before landing his first gig as a full-time assistant at the FBS level as the quarterbacks coach at Central Michigan.
After a two-year stint there, he went on to spend three years with the Chicago Bears. As an offensive quality control coach, he learned some of the finer details at the highest level of football. He even helped prepare a game plan for Super Bowl XLI.
He found his way back to Central Michigan, this time as the offensive coordinator beginning in 2007. He then followed head coach Butch Jones to Cincinnati in the same position in 2010.
He’s the only offensive coordinator Jones has known in his six-year history as a head coach. It’s no surprise Jones is bringing him to Knoxville for his biggest task as a head coach yet.
The two met at a camp while Jones was an assistant at Central Michigan and Bajakian was a graduate assistant at Michigan. They discovered similarities in their offensive philosophies and formed a friendship from there.
“We are a good balancing act on each other,” Jones told GoBearCats.com earlier this year. “I will come in with some idea. He’ll say, OK, if we are to put something in we are going to have to take something out. Because we both believe in running an execution-based system and not a designer offense.”
Bajakian and Jones have combined to put up some big offensive numbers in their six years together. That started at Central Michigan, where quarterback Dan LeFevour, later drafted by the Bears, became the only quarterback in NCAA history to finish his career with over 12,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards.
Their first offense at Cincinnati in 2010 led the Big East in scoring, total yardage, passing, first downs and third-down conversion rate. They were second in the Big East in rushing offense in 2011 with running back Isaiah Pead, later a second round pick of the St. Louis Rams, winning Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Bajakian was chosen the Big East’s top offensive coordinator before the 2012 seasonby CBSSports.com. He didn’t disappoint. The Bearcats again led the league in scoring offense in 2012 while finishing second in total offense.
When speaking of his offensive philosophy at his introductory press conference, Jones undoubtedly had Bajakian, who has not been formally introduced at Tennessee, in mind.
“Offensively, we are going to be a team that takes care of the football,” Jones said. “We are going to run a no-huddle offense. I don’t like to use the term “spread,” because I think that the word “finesse” is associated with that. We are going to be a physical style of offense and be a pro-style offense.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS