Relationships Key for Bajakian

Dec. 20, 2012

By Brian Rice

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- When Butch Jones was hired at the University of Tennessee, a long interview process wasn't necessary for Mike Bajakian to take on the job as offensive coordinator.

As the only coach not new to the Tennessee staff, running backs coach Jay Graham has been a valuable resource for Jones and the assistant coaches to lean on as they make their transition to the Volunteers.

Graham brings not only the operational perspective of a returning coach, but also that of a former player who is a part of the storied on-field Volunteer tradition.

"They've asked me a lot of questions and I've answered about a lot of things on the recruiting front and just how we did things," Graham said. "I've been able to answer a lot, and that's good."

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said that the insight that Graham has been able to give goes beyond just advice on the lay of the land.

"I wouldn't say he's given us advice as much as he's answered every question we have for him," Bajakian said. "We've asked everything from the environment to the passion of the fan base to even day-to-day operations. He's been a great resource for us."

Graham enters his second year at UT, meaning he is becoming acclimated to an entirely new staff for the second consecutive year.

"It's a change, but I'm used to it," he said. "This is a great group of guys, I've enjoyed being around them and I've enjoyed being around Coach Jones. There are no egos, they just work hard. They're blue-collar coaches that understand recruiting and watching tape and understand what they're looking for."



Bajakian spent the last six seasons with Jones as offensive coordinator at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but the working relationship between the two men extends more than a decade. He spent two seasons with Jones under head coach Brian Kelly at CMU before heading to the NFL as an offensive quality control assistant for the Chicago Bears.

"I've loved working with him," Bajakian said of Jones as he and his fellow Vol assistant coaches met the media for the first time on Thursday. "He always asks for input. He wasn't one of those guys as a coordinator that locked himself in his office and came out hours later with the game plan and said `This is what we're doing.' He always wanted to know `What do you think?' or if you came to him and said, `Coach, I want to do this," and he'd ask you why, and as long as you had a good reason, he was all in."

Bajakian had just completed his third season with the Bears, a tenure that culminated with an appearance in Super Bowl XLI, when Jones called with an offer to return to the Chippewas as offensive coordinator. The interview was short.

"When he asked me to come back in 2007, I didn't even ask questions, I just knew that I was going to enjoy that working relationship," Bajakian said of Jones call to him upon being named head coach at CMU. "He's given us the opportunity to coach our positions and our side of the ball. He focuses his attention on being what he calls the `attitude coach.' He coaches the attitude and mentality of our players. He's the motivator, and does a great job of it. That allows us to focus on the X's and O's, the techniques, the fundamentals. He has a great grasp of that and a lot of input on that, but he loves the motivational part of the game and that makes my job easier as a coordinator and as a positional coach. It makes it easier when you have a head coach that is motivating your players on a daily basis."

The talent and mindset of the returning players has Bajakian excited to get to work with Jones and the staff with the Vols hit the field this spring.

"I like what I've seen so far," Bajakian said when asked of his impressions of the players he has met since his arrival. "The personality is impressive. Guys want to be successful, they've come in asking how and what to expect. They want to work hard and want to do well, and those are the types of guys that you want to work with."

Bajakian said that the strengths of the current players and those that will be Vols in the future will be the basis for what he and the staff will scheme on offense, rather than being limited by personnel in a rigid system.

"We will mold the system to the strengths of our personnel, that's the bottom line," he said. "We're not going to try to be something that we're not. We will find out what our guys to well and mold the system to that. We're going to recruit the best players and then mold the system around those players."



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