First-year struggles

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Randy Sanders' first year as offensive coordinator saw Tennessee slip from 54 touchdowns in 1998 to 42 in '99 and from a 13-0 record to a 9-3 mark.

Dave Clawson's first year as offensive coordinator saw Tennessee plummet from 52 touchdowns in 2007 to 22 in '08, from 401.5 yards and 32.5 points per game to 268.7 yards and 17.3 points per game.

These numbers are noteworthy because Mike Bajakian is soon to embark on his first year as Tennessee's offensive coordinator. The obvious question: Will the Vols suffer the same sort of Season 1 growing pains under him that they did under Sanders and Clawson?

Maybe not. Whereas Sanders and Clawson had never coordinated an offense for head coach Phillip Fulmer previously, Bajakian has coordinated offenses each of the past six years for new Vol head man Butch Jones. That familiarity could breed success.

"I know what to expect from him," Bajakian said recently. "He knows my thought process, inside and out, so there's a lot of continuity there."

Bajakian coordinated Jones' offenses at Central Michigan in 2007, '08 and '09, then coordinated his attacks at Cincinnati in 2010, '11 and '12. Making their transition to Tennessee even smoother is the fact offensive line coach Don Mahoney filled the same role for Jones each of the past six years and receivers coach Zach Azzanni served in that capacity during Jones' three years as head man at Central Michigan.

"A lot of times when you come into a new situation like this as a new staff, there's questions that we have the answers to already ... that we don't even have to ask one another," Bajakian said. "That helps, especially when you come in with a little bit of a late jump. You can get kick-started that much more quickly."

Although he has the reputation as a more run-oriented coordinator than pass-happy Vol predecessor Jim Chaney, Bajakian says he called plenty of pass plays at his previous stop.

"Regardless of what you've seen from a personnel standpoint, you've seen multiple receivers catching the ball," he said. "Shoot, our first year at Cincinnati we had the No. 1 and No. 2 receiver in the (Big East) conference in a lot of categories. Our No. 2 receiver had more catches and touchdowns than a lot of teams' No. 1 receiver."

The new Vol coordinator's offensive philosophy is to stretch the defense vertically and horizontally, creating wider running lanes for ball-carriers and more operating space for receivers.

"It's important to make the defense defend the entire width and entire depth of the field," Bajakian said.

It's also important to keep the defense off balance. One way to do this is playing at a pace so frantic that defenders have precious little time to make adjustments and substitutions between snaps.

"Coach Jones was the offensive coordinator and I was the quarterbacks coach in our first stint at Central Michigan University (2001-2004), and we utilized the uptempo offense at that time," Bajakian recalled. "We were two-tight end personnel and a ton of (quarterback) under center. That's what we were built for, but we moved quickly."

Following the 2004 season Jones left CMU to coach wide receivers under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and Bajakian left to work for the Chicago Bears. The duo returned to Central Michigan in 2007 — this time with Jones serving as head coach and Bajakian as offensive coordinator.

"I knew when we were reunited three years later that we were going to be going as fast as we could," Bajakian said. "He had elements of the no-huddle, uptempo style that were added to what we had done before at Central Michigan."

Great offenses tend to be those who are able to run when they're expected to pass and pass when they're expected to run. Tennessee hopes to field this type of offense in 2013.

"I don't want to be predictable from the run/pass standpoint," Bajakian said. "That's kind of the starting point of what we're doing."

Mike Bajakian video interview

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