After two years as offensive coordinator at Tennessee and eight years as offensive coordinator under Butch Jones, Bruce Feldman is reporting that Mike Bajakian will be leaving the Volunteers' coaching staff to pursue other coaching opportunities. Early reports indicate that he will take a job as quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bajakian had struggled in his first two seasons at Tennessee, producing an offense that ranked 95th in the country in scoring and 94th in yards per play in 2013 and following that up with a 2014 offense that ranked 65th in scoring but an abysmal 108th in yards per play. However, Bajakian had been expected to return, given that he coached both seasons with significant handicaps. In 2013, the Tennessee offense had little in the way of skill players, and the 2014 offense was limited by injuries at wide receiver and by one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
Despite this, Bajakian had put together some excellent performances as the Tennessee offensive coordinator--most memorably in bizarrely high-scoring losses to Georgia in both 2013 and 2014--and his offense looked better on the whole when Josh Dobbs ascended to the starting quarterback position late in 2014. That said, there were notable struggles this season, mustering just 9 points and three turnovers in an embarrassing loss to Florida and producing just 17 points on offense--even with Dobbs--against one of the worst defenses in the league in the regular season finale. The Tennessee offense consistently struggled at turning field position into points, coming in well below the national average in points per scoring opportunity and having an unbelievable four empty trips inside the 30 in a 45-point performance against South Carolina this season.
It remains to be seen what direction Tennessee will take in replacing him. The simple fact is that Tennessee, riding a top five recruiting class and popping up in a number of preseason rankings for 2015, is in a much better position to be hiring than they were following three years of Derek Dooley. The pool of quality assistants willing to take on this project should be higher than it was in 2012, so this might provide Jones an opportunity to upgrade. If the reports of Bajakian taking a demotion to move to Tampa Bay are correct, this could be an indication that Jones saw the opportunity and encouraged his offensive coordinator to look around. But whatever the case may be, we wish Bajakian the best of luck in Tampa.
We will keep you posted on the offensive coordinator search, as well as whether this move will affect any of the offensive coaches who were working under Bajakian--particularly offensive line coach Don Mahoney, a popular scapegoat for the struggles of the offense.