Football: Mike Bajakian shares plans to redesign the offense and give QBs a ‘clean slate’ in introductory press conference


Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter


On Mike Bajakian’s first day as the Bears’ quality control coach 15 years ago, he walked into the team facility excited to watch some of the best players in the world practice.

He was expecting this March practice to be “the greatest thing ever,” watching some incredible displays of athleticism and the execution of the most complex drills. What Bajakian got instead was a chance to watch the Bears do the exact same drills he did at the Pop Warner level.

That day has always stuck with Bajakian, who was introduced as Northwestern’s new offensive coordinator in a teleconference Monday afternoon. When he ran the offenses at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Boston College — or when worked with Jameis Winston as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterbacks coach — Bajakian always went back to the basics.

“Anywhere I’ve ever been, whatever level of college or when I went back to the NFL, I’ve always started with that thought process,” the New Jersey native said. “Even with Jameis Winston in Tampa, we went back, and the drills we were doing was the same we did in elementary school.”

Now Bajakian, 45, is starting over again with the Wildcats. After NU went 3-9 last season and had one of the 10 worst offenses in the country, Bajakian said he’s been given a “clean slate” to design the Cats’ offense in whatever way he and the assistant coaches see fit.

“When I talked to coach (Pat Fitzgerald) in the initial stages of the interview process, I said, listen, we’re not going to win football games because of some magical scheme,” Bajakian said. “We’re going to win football games because we play with greater effort than other guys.”

NU had run Mick McCall’s spread offense since 2008, but after he was fired on Dec. 1, Fitzgerald looked for a potential coordinator who had experience running multiple different schemes.

At Central Michigan, Bajakian created an uptempo spread offense that highlighted star receiver Antonio Brown. When he went to Cincinnati, he tweaked it so star tight end Travis Kelce would have more to do. At Boston College, the offense became more run-heavy, built around all-ACC running back A.J. Dillon.

So Bajakian isn’t bringing a specific gameplan with him — he says his only philosophy is getting the ball in the hands of his best playmakers.

“In my past I’ve been a part of many different schemes and many different personnel groups,” he said. “I’ve found that the most successful offenses were very simply geared towards getting the ball to the guy who can do the most with it in his hands.”

Bajakian had his first meeting with the offensive coaches Tuesday morning, and NU will return its entire staff of offensive assistant coaches next season. The majority of the offseason will be spent recreating the offense around its best playmakers, which will include a powerful running back in Isaiah Bowser and a shifty slot receiver in Riley Lees.

Bajakian said he has no timetable for naming a quarterback, but he said he won’t overanalyze Hunter Johnson, Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty’s struggles last season.

“It’s a clean slate for everybody,” Bajakian said. “We’re still in the evaluation process, but more important than what they’ve done in the past is what they’re going to do moving forward.”

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