A Reason to Coach: Mike Bajakian

Finding a reason to wake up morning after morning with 100-plus-hour work weeks can be difficult at times. Take a look at a memory of a Tennessee coach that gives him added incentive to continue clocking in.

From being an All-New England Small College Athletic Conference quarterback at Williams College to teaching math to married father of three to Tennessee offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Mike Bajakian has enjoyed quite a ride.

The Oradell, New Jersey, native purposely purchased a home within minutes of Rocky Top so he could see his family in the tiny windows around teaching football to the Volunteers.

It's that type of work ethic on and off the field that has seen Bajakian go from a graduate assistant working with defensive backs at Rutgers (1998-99) to being an offensive quality control and wide receivers coach with the Chicago Bears (2004-06).

The ’06 season came to a close with former Vols great Peyton Manning leading the Indianapolis Colts past Bajakian and the Bears, which the coach jokingly says was “one of my worse moments.” However, getting to Super Bowl XLI was among the best.

Bajakian detailed moments along the way to InsideTennessee that make coaching worthwhile.

“There's a lot,” the second-year Tennessee coordinator said. “Honestly, the job is not easy. Day in and day out you are faced with challenges but every year there are those moments where you literally sit down after a game or after one of those moments and go, ‘This makes it all worth it and this is why I love this profession.’ Last year's victory over South Carolina is that moment for last season. In my career, I'd have to say our victory in the 2006 season when I was with the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game over the New Orleans Saints that put us in the Super Bowl.

“The NFC championship game, I still remember it well. My family was in the stands, my wife was in the stands, I remember the snow falling, I remember it being so loud in the stadium significantly after the end of the game that you still couldn't communicate with the person next to you and it was just a continuous celebration that lasted for a while.

Chicago Bears hoist the George S. Halas Trophy after winning the NFC championship during the 2006-07 season.
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

“I think going to a Super Bowl is obviously every player and every coach’s dream and to have had that opportunity was a neat experience.”

Bajakian, who worked in the Windy City alongside eventual and now former Vols offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, provided a unique perspective on having seen several games inside both Chicago’s Soldier Field and Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium.

“Funny you ask that because that NFC championship game,” he said, “my father-in-law and my wife and my mother-in-law were at the game. They were also at our Georgia game last year. My father-in-law, John Heybach, said to me the stadium against Georgia was louder than the stadium when we won the NFC championship game. He said that crowd was the loudest he's ever heard a crowd, even comparing it to the NFC championship game.”

The two-time NFL divisional winner says the college game has that little extra that separates it from the professional ranks.

“When you talk about the gameday environment, I think they are comparable,” Bajakian said. “But here's what I love about college football…the NFL and Chicago have a very passionate fan base and that was neat to be a part of. In college football, there seems to be a lot more tradition, a lot more pageantry with the marching band, the fight songs, the rivalries, the Vol Walk. That makes it that much more special.”

See more from the offensive coordinator as he revisits what happened last weekend in Oklahoma, the game plan for the bye week, the progress of Justin Worley and more in the InsideTennessee video below:

Mike Bajakian video interview


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