Bajakan replaces Nick McCall on Pat Fitzgerald's staff
In less than two weeks, the Northwestern Wildcats football program already found its new offensive coordinator. The school parted ways with Nick McCall just 24 hours after the team finished the regular season with a 3-9 record in which they ranked 126th out of 130 FBS teams in total offense. It was only the fourth losing season for NU with McCall running the offense, but for seven of his 12 campaigns, the Wildcats finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten in both total and scoring offense. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald felt a change was needed and he didn't waste any time.
Last week, Northwestern announced the hiring of Mike Bajakian as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He brings with him more than 20 years of experience as an offensive assistant at both the pro and college levels. He's worked with a variety of different offenses during his career, and he's helped mold college prospects into NFL players. And now Bajakian looks to upgrade the Wildcats' system.
Northwestern may have some holes on offense heading into 2020 but there's plenty of talent to work with on the roster, which will be boosted by the incoming recruiting class. Here are five reasons why Bajakian is the right man for the job in Evanston.
1. This isn't his first job with a Power 5 school
This was the biggest reason why Bajakian was brought into the fold at Northwestern. He began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at Rutgers (1998-99). From there he went to Michigan to serve as quarterbacks coach (2000-01) where he worked with future NFL signal-callers Drew Henson and John Navarre.
Bajakian also has spent time in the SEC, as he was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee from 2013-14 working with Butch Jones. Besides calling the plays, Bajakian worked with the quarterbacks again, including future NFLers Nathan Peterman (before transferring to Pittsburgh) and Joshua Dobbs.
This past season, Bajakian was the offensive coordinator for Boston College under Steve Addazio. The Eagles went 6-6 in the regular season and will play Cincinnati in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 2. Boston College has the ACC's top rushing offense this season, one that ranks sixth nationally at 267.8 yards per game.
Given Bajakian's track record of success across the Power 5 landscape, he should fit in seamlessly at Northwestern.
2. His other collegiate success
Besides his Power 5 stops, Bajakian had two stints at Central Michigan. He was quarterbacks coach during the 2002 and '03 seasons and later returned to be the Chippewas' offensive coordinator from 2007-09. During his time as OC, CMU won the MAC title in 2007 and '09.
After the second MAC championship, Bajakian followed head coach Butch Jones from Central Michigan to Cincinnati to serve as the OC. In three seasons, the Bearcats won the final two Big East titles (2011-12) before the conference essentially split between FBS and FCS members when it came to football. Cincinnati joined the nine other football-playing members in the creation of the American Athletic Conference. Bajakian again followed Jones after the 2012 season, this time going from Cincinnati to Tennessee.
3. He also spent some time in the NFL
Gaining experience at the pro level is valuable for any coach. In between Bajakian's two stints at Central Michigan, he was the offensive quality control coach for the Chicago Bears (2004-06). He saw firsthand as the Bears won back-to-back NFC North titles (2005-06), the 2006 NFC championship, and was present for Super Bowl XLI. And before moving on to Boston College, Bajakian was quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2015-18.
4. He comes from a solid coaching tree
As a graduate assistant at Rutgers, Bajakian worked under Terry Shea who's one of more respected offensive minds in the game. At Michigan, he learned under the legendary Lloyd Carr. When he was with the Bears and Buccaneers he was part of current Illinois head coach Lovie Smith's staff and spent time some under Dirk Koetter as well. He worked with Butch Jones at three different stops and this past season was on Steve Addazio's staff at Boston College. Now he's teamed with Pat Fitzgerald, who has turned Northwestern from an afterthought into a consistently competitive program in the Big Ten.
5. He has a nice talent pool to work with at Northwestern
This offense will have plenty of questions to answer in 2020 after a dismal '19, but there are some pieces for Bajakian to work with. Since he's coaching the quarterbacks in addition to calling plays, perhaps Bajakian can get things sorted out under center. He just might be the coach to bring the best out of Hunter Johnson, the Clemson transfer who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. In Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty, Bajakian has two other signal-callers who displayed toughness and learned to adjust on the fly in the wake of injuries to both Johnson and TJ Green. Getting more from the quarterback position is Bajakian's top priority this offseason.
Since Bajakian likes to run the ball, it'll be interesting to see how he splits the carries between Drake Anderson (led NU with 634 rushing yards), Evan Hull (team-high four rushing TDs), Jesse Brown (6.2 ypc), and Isaiah Bowser. Bowser, in particular, struggled with injuries, as the team's leading rusher and surprise breakout as a freshman in 2018 managed just 228 yards in the five games he was able to play.
Bajakian also will have a nice stable of wide receivers in Riley Lees (51 catches, 430 yards, 2 TDs), Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman (17, 188), J.J. Jefferson (12, 155, 2), and Kyric McGowan (13, 102). He may also find a way to make better use of the skills of superbacks (TE/FB) Trey Pugh and Charlie Mangieri, who combined for just 31 receiving yards this season. The future is looking brighter for the Wildcats.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of nusports.com)