Well, that didn’t take very long.
Less than a week since Northwestern announced it would part ways with Mick McCall, it appears as if we already have word on his successor. News broke late Friday night that Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats were finalizing a deal with former Boston College offensive coordinator and QB coach Mike Bajakian.
We’re yet to get an official word on the hiring from the program (weird that this news came on a Friday night), but reporting from multiple national media outlets gives strong indications that Bajakian is going to be the guy moving forward.
Here are some quick hits as we begin to get to know McCall’s successor:
Hometown: River Vale, New Jersey
Playing career: Williams College
College/Pro Coaching experience: 21 years
Stint at Boston College
Bajakian will be making his way to the Midwest after just one season at the helm of BC’s offense. That doesn’t give us the greatest sample size, but the coordinator seemed to do a solid job, coaching them to an impressive SP+ offensive ranking of 37th. The Golden Eagles averaged 30.9 PPG in 2019 despite losing their starting quarterback in early October.
Despite BC stumbling its way to a 6-6 record, the 45-year-old coordinator led an offense that averaged 450+ yards per game throughout the season, good for 26th in the nation. Given that Boston College finished 2018 as the 88th ranked offense according to SP+, it’s safe to say that Bajakian’s lone season in Chestnut Hill was a successful one.
Notable Prior Tenures
Chicago Bears (Offensive Quality Control/Wide Receivers), 2004-2006
Central Michigan (Offensive Coordinator), 2007-2009
Cincinnati (Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach), 2010-2012
Tennessee (Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach), 2013-2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Quarterbacks Coach), 2015-2018
If you were hoping that Fitz was going to use this hire to completely revolutionize the Northwestern offense by bringing in a high-tempo, air raid coordinator, you can think again. Things can and will obviously change with a brand new man in charge offensively in Evanston, but Bajakian appears to be the kind of ball-control offensive mind that has dictated the NU offense since at least the graduation of Dan Persa.
The emphasis on the run game in 2019 certainly had to do with the fact that BC lost its starting quarterback during the season, but it appears as if establishing the run has always been a focal point of Bajakian’s offense throughout the years. The coordinator also certainly benefitted from having one of the nation’s top running backs in AJ Dillon at his disposal this past season.
In 2010, his first season at the helm of a college offense, Bajakian coached 1000+ rusher Isaiah Pead at Cincinnati in the Big East. His final two seasons in charge of the Bearcats offense saw the team lead the conference in rushing yards for back-to-back years.
Bajakian is also no stranger to the mobile quarterback. His 2014 offense at Tennessee saw current Jacksonville Jaguar Joshua Dobbs rush for 469 yards and 8 touchdowns as the Volunteers reached their first bowl since 2010 (first bowl victory since 2007).
Boston College’s Sports Illustrated Maven blog had this to say about Bajakian when the news of his suspected departure from BC broke Friday:
“His offensive gameplan was tailored to Steve Addazio’s physical run and play action game, but when Addazio introduced him he mentioned that Bajakian’s emphasis on the tight end was why he was offered the job.”
This “emphasis on the tight end” should be a interesting thing to watch for moving forward with this NU offense. As we know, the tight end-esque superback position was a long staple of Mick McCall’s offensive personnel throughout his tenure. A Northwestern superback had been a Top 5 receiver on the team for the past nine seasons until 2019. This past season, Wildcat superbacks combined to catch just a combined seven passes for 30 yards.
Could this be a sign of the position phasing out of the greater Northwestern personnel group, or will Bajakian choose to revamp/modify the role when he arrives in Evanston? The coordinator used a 12 personnel (two TE, one RB) a lot last season, so you’d have to think that some sort of tight end production will be relied upon next year, even if it’s limited compared to the way the Eagles used that position this season.
Part of it has to do with personnel. Northwestern simply doesn’t seem to have the talent at superback as they’ve had in the past. Charlie Mangieri never emerged as a legitimate threat in the passing game for NU in his sophomore season, and although Trey Pugh was injured for the majority of the season, he didn’t look up to the part in the limited action he saw in 2019. Thomas Gordon was a highly-rated tight end out of high school, and could potentially be an option in the near future despite redshirting.
The most important and obvious question facing Bajakian next year, though, will be the direction he chooses to go at quarterback. Much of that will depend on whether TJ Green decides to pursue a medical redshirt and return for a sixth-year of eligibility, but either way, the coordinator will have quite the quarterback battle on his hands (gonna be another fun offseason of getting little to no information, folks!).
One has to think that a healthy Hunter Johnson is a favorite to get the nod, especially when the “HJ doesn’t know the playbook” narrative is no longer at play with a new scheme coming to the offense. That being said, given the way Andrew Marty impressed running the football in his lone start of 2019, I don’t think it’s fair to eliminate his name from the starting conversation entirely.
Regardless, even though Bajakian doesn’t differ much stylistically from what Northwestern has done recently offensively, he is new blood. Fresh ideas will be coming to the table for Northwestern this season on the offensive end no matter what, and it’s hard not to get excited about that, especially given that they will come from a coach with some track record of success.