The NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs announced Thursday evening that they have hired Bajakian as quarterbacks coach. He is reunited in Tampa with Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, who he previously served as a quality control assistant for the Chicago Bears from 2004-06. Interestingly enough, Smith also is a former Vol aide, having served as Tennessee's secondary coach in 1993-94.
Bajakian had some outstanding years as offensive coordinator at Cincinnati. His 2011 offense averaged 33.3 points per game and his 2012 Bearcat attack led the Big East in points, rushing and yards per play.
His debut season at Tennessee was a bust, however. The top three offensive weapons from 2012 – quarterback Tyler Bray, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and wide receiver Justin Hunter – all opted to turn pro rather than return for their senior seasons. Lacking playmakers, the 2013 Vols averaged just 23.8 points per game overall and 18.0 ppg in eight SEC games.
Thanks to the addition of such talented newcomers as running back Jalen Hurd, tight end Ethan Wolf, receiver Josh Malone and JUCO receiver Von Pearson, Tennessee improved to 28.9 points per game in 2014. The offensive progress helped the Vols go 7-6, their first winning season since 2009, and earn their first bowl bid since 2007.
Should Jones elect to promote from within his staff, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni might be the choice for offensive coordinator. Azzanni knows Jones' offense, having spent five years coaching it – three at Central Michigan (2007-09) and the past two at Tennessee. In between he coached receivers at Florida (2010), Western Kentucky (2011) and Wisconsin (2012). He also served as offensive coordinator during his season at WKU.
Some other names to watch are Rod Smith (Arizona), Jake Spavital (Texas A&M) and Jim Bob Cooter (Detroit Lions).
Smith served as quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator at South Florida (2001-04), then as the school's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2005-06). Next came four years as quarterbacks coach under Rich Rodriguez – one season at West Virginia (2007) and three at Michigan (2008-10). Smith was co-offensive coordinator/QB coach at Indiana in 2011 before taking the same position at Arizona in 2012. He has coached such dynamic quarterbacks as Pat White (WVU) and Denard Robinson (Michigan).
Spavital, 29, fits the youthful makeup of Tennessee's offensive staff and has worked with some of the most respected offensive minds in college football. He handled quality control for Auburn's Gus Malzahn at Tulsa in 2008, served as a grad assistant under Kevin Sumlin at Houston in 2009, then as a GA under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State in 2010. Spavital coached quarterbacks for Dana Holgerson at West Virginia in 2011-12, then served as the interim offensive coordinator in the Mountaineers' 52-48 defeat of Duke in the 2013 Chick fil-A Bowl. He was co-offensive coordinator at A&M for Sumlin in 2013, then promoted to offensive coordinator in 2014.
Spavital has coached such standout quarterbacks as Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (A&M), Case Keenum (Houston), Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) and Geno Smith (WVU). Even with Manziel gone, Spavital's 2014 Aggie offense averaged 35.2 points and 455.4 yards per game.
Cooter, 30, is considered one of the fastest-rising assistants in the NFL. He's also a Tennessee native (Fayetteville) and a UT graduate. As quarterbacks coach for the Detroit Lions in 2014 he helped Matthew Stafford post a career-low interception total and the second-highest completion rate of his career. Cooter was in line to interview for the offensive coordinator job with new Chicago Bears coach John Fox but the Lions refused to grant permission to their NFC North rival, scuttling that opportunity.
Cooter walked on as a quarterback prospect at Tennessee, graduated in 2006, then served as a Vol graduate assistant in 2007 and 2008.