Mike Bajakian found a 'perfect match' with Northwestern as offensive coordinator
Mike Bajakian calls his new job "a perfect match."
Bajakian, who played quarterback at Williams and graduated in 1996, is settling in at his new job as the offensive coordinator at Northwestern University.
"When I was with the [Tampa Bay Buccaneers], somebody asked me what's better, coaching in the NFL or coaching at the college level," Bajakian said. "There's pros and cons to every place and every level you're at. I said to this person, 'You know what? One of my dream jobs would be to coach at Northwestern University.' This was five or six years earlier."
Bajakian, who had been the offensive coordinator at Boston College for one season, was between jobs after BC fired Steve Addazio as head coach. BC went 6-6, 4-4 in the ACC, in Bajakian's lone season on the Heights. He had come to Boston College after being on the coaching staff of the NFL's Buccaneers. Bajakian was not retained by new Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians.
What makes this a perfect landing spot for Bajakian?
"No. 1, my wife is from Chicago. In this profession, where we're transient by nature, the opportunity to be close to family would be ideal," he said. "No. 2, you're at a high academic institution, where you're recruiting the brightest and the best to play college football. You're dealing with a high caliber student-athlete."
The new Northwestern offensive coordinator laughed when he was asked about comparing it to his alma mater.
"It's like Williams on steroids," he said. "The academic reputation is phenomenal. The sports are phenomenal. The setting is gorgeous. That's a good way to put it."
Bajakian joined Addazio's staff in January 2019. But when Addazio was fired following the season, the whole coaching staff was let go as well.
"We had our last game of the season. We felt we had to win it to qualify for a bowl game to save our jobs. We did, and so everyone was celebrating as if we had saved our jobs," he said. "We went in the next day. Everyone was in a great move. We went through the day normally. We met with our players. We planned our recruiting trips. We made reservations for our flights. We left the office.
"I found out as I'm driving home that Coach Addazio was let go. Within five minutes, I had a conversation about another job opening."
As it turned out, Northwestern was looking for an offensive coordinator as head coach Pat Fitzgerald and OC Mick McCall had parted ways. McCall was hired by Fitzgerald in 2006.
"That evening, Coach Fitzgerald texted and said 'Hey, can we talk about a coordinator's position?'" Bajakian said. "He had let go his coordinator that morning. By the evening we had a conversation. By midweek, I had talked to both schools, and Northwestern was where I wanted to be."
There are five returning quarterbacks for the Wildcats, who finished 3-9 in 2019. Two of them, rising senior Aidan Smith and redshirt junior Hunter Johnson each threw at least 100 passes. Peyton Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana and incoming freshman Carl Richardson make up the rest of the quarterback room.
As a coordinator, Bajakian has run offenses that use the spread formation and as he did at BC, lined up future Green Bay Packer A.J. Dillon behind the quarterback and let him pound the rock. Northwestern hasn't played like BC, and the new coordinator said the Wildcats won't be Eagles Midwest.
"What you do is going to be based on who you have," he said. "We were a bit different at BC in that we had a running back that was a high second-round pick to the Green Bay Packers and we had room full of tight ends that had a bunch of experience. We could formationally live in two tight end formations and run the football and do all those things, so we did. Here, we're not quite built like that. But we have some talented people at different positions. There will be a bunch of carry-over. But a lot of the players, when I first got here, asked me 'Coach, what game films should we watch from BC?' I said, slow down, we're not going to be Boston College-West. We're going to be unique. We're going to be Northwestern."
Bajakian has core beliefs that go all the way back to when he played for College Football Hall of Fame coach Dick Farley at Williams.
"I've been a part of a lot of different schemes offensively. I've always said, and truly believe, it's not the schemes that win games. It's how you play the game — your effort, your physicality. The simple things like conditioning, blocking and tackling. It's not rocket science. A lot of that stuff is based on culture. Here at Northwestern, Coach Fitz has created an unbelievable culture, so that getting the guys to play at a maximum effort level, that's something the guys have been hearing since he's been head coach."
Like Williams, Northwestern's main color is purple. Where Morty Schapiro once led Williams as president, he now has the same job at Northwestern.
"I haven't met him, but we've exchanged emails," Bajakian said. "He does come around the football program a lot, but we haven't had an opportunity [to meet] because of everything that's been going on."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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