Potential candidates to run Vols' offense
With offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian departing from Tennessee, the Times Free Press looks at eight possible candidates as head coach Butch Jones begins to look for a replacement:
Zach Azzanni (Tennessee wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator): Jones values continuity and stability in his program, so promoting Azzanni may make sense. He was the passing game coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida in 2010 and the offensive coordinator under Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky in 2011. He's a receivers coach by trade, though, so the Vols likely would have to hire a quarterbacks coach even if they did promote Azzanni, who's also in play at Central Michigan if Bajakian opts for the NFL.
Calvin Magee (Arizona co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach): Magee has been on Rich Rodriguez's staff at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona, many of them as a coordinator or co-coordinator. Jones spent two seasons on Rodriguez's staff with Magee at West Virginia in 2005-06. With the Wildcats, 26th nationally in total offense in 2014, Magee shares coordinator duties with Rod Smith, who handles quarterbacks.
Tee Martin (Southern California wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator): Tennessee's last national-championship winning quarterback nearly returned to his alma mater two years ago when Jones tried to hire him to the spot that ultimately went to Azzanni. Martin has held the title of passing game coordinator while coaching receivers at Kentucky and USC, but he coached quarterbacks at New Mexico in 2009 coming up from the high school ranks in Atlanta.
Jim Bob Cooter (Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach): The former Tennessee quarterback is probably a long shot, given how quickly his stock appears to be rising in the NFL. The Lions reportedly denied the Chicago Bears permission to speak with Cooter for their offensive coordinator vacancy earlier this week. Prior to joining the Lions, he was an offensive assistant for the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts.
T.J. Weist (Connecticut offensive coordinator/receivers coach): Weist was the receivers coach at Cincinnati under Jones for all three years of his tenure. He was UConn's interim coach for much of the 2013 season after Paul Pasqualoni was fired and didn't coach last season. Prior to joining Jones at Cincinnati, Weist spent eight seasons at Western Kentucky, where he was the coordinator (2003-06), following stints in various roles at Tulsa, Southern Illinois, Michigan and Alabama.
Herb Hand (Penn State offensive line coach/run game coordinator): Jones and Hand, who's worked on James Franklin's staffs at Vanderbilt and Penn State the last five years, coached together for two years under Rodriguez at West Virginia. Jones called Hand a "very good friend" ahead of the Vols-Vanderbilt game in 2013. Between the Mountaineers and Commodores, Hand was the offensive coordinator for Todd Graham at Tulsa for three years.
Doug Meacham (TCU co-offensive coordinator): In his first season at TCU, Meacham split coordinator duties with Sonny Cumbie and was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach, after the Horned Frogs finished tied for fifth nationally in total offense. Meacham spent eight years at Oklahoma State, where Vols running backs coach Robert Gillespie was on staff for two seasons. Meacham coordinated offenses at Houston (2013), Samford (2002-04), Henderson State (1999-2000), Jacksonville State (1997-99) and Georgia Military College (1994-96).
Matt LaFleur (Notre Dame quarterbacks coach): At Central Michigan in 2004, Jones worked under Brian Kelly, whom he would succeed as the head coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. LaFleur was an offensive assistant with the Chippewas in 2004-05 under Kelly and thus spent one year with Jones. LaFleur was an offensive assistant with the Houston Texans for two years and was the Washington Redskins quarterback coach for four years before Kelly hired him. His lone coordinator experience came at Ashland (Ohio) University in 2007.
KNOXVILLE -- After two seasons of welcomed stability, Tennessee jumped back on the college football coaching carousel.
Now Butch Jones must make an important hire entering what looks to be a very promising third season.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian left the Volunteers on Thursday and accepted a position with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as quarterbacks coach.
The only offensive coordinator Jones has had in eight years as a head coach at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee, Bajakian reunited with Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, for whom he worked as an offensive quality control coach nearly a decade ago (2004-06).
"We'd like to thank Coach Bajakian for his two years at Tennessee and his efforts in helping us rebuild this storied program," Jones said in a released statement. "We wish him much success with his goal of coaching in the NFL."
Bajakian, who has three daughters under the age of 3, was making $480,000 under his original two-year contract, which was rolled over a year to run through 2015, though Tennessee plans again to extend the contracts of its assistant coaches in addition to an increase in the staff's salary pool.
For terminating his contract early, Bajakian, or the Bucs, will owe Tennessee 33 percent of that salary, or $156,750.
He was linked to the head coaching job at Bowling Green after his first season in Knoxville, and there was speculation he was interested in the vacancy at Central Michigan after Chippewas coach Dan Enos resigned to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.
Whoever Jones and Tennessee tab to replace Bajakian is stepping into an attractive situation.
The Vols return 10 starters on offense, losing only right tackle Jacob Gilliam, after quarterback Josh Dobbs spearheaded a strong finish to the 2014 season. In the five games Dobbs started to end the season after Justin Worley was injured, Tennessee won four and averaged 36.4 points.
In its second season under Bajakian, Tennessee had increases in total offense (from 353.3 yards per game to 370.5) and scoring (23.8 points to 28.9) despite replacing an offensive line that lost three NFL rookie starters and paved the way for the program's best single-season rushing total (2,261 yards) since 2004.
Over the course of the 2014 season, the Vols started seven true freshmen on offense.
"That's more than twice as many as any other offense in the conference," Bajakian noted after one December practice. "The progress is there. It's evident. When you look closely, you can tell that this team, this offense is making progress.
"Now it's just the matter of taking the next step."
Tennessee will do it with another coach calling plays and tutoring its quarterbacks.
Don't expect Jones to tab a replacement without a background in the spread zone-read option offense. It's what he's run as a head coach, and it's what Brian Kelly and Rich Rodriguez, two of the head coaches he worked for prior to taking his first head coaching job in 2007, also ran. It also best suits Dobbs and the trio of quarterbacks in Tennessee's 2015 recruiting class.
The Vols were one of seven Football Bowl Subdivision programs to have the same coaching staff since 2013, joining Arizona, BYU, Kansas State, Northwestern, South Carolina and Texas-El Paso.
This actually will be the second hire Jones will make since taking over at Tennessee in December 2012.
After Jay Graham initially was retained by Jones as the lone holdover from Derek Dooley's final staff, the former Tennessee running back left for the same position at Florida State, and Tennessee hired Robert Gillespie, a former Florida running back who's excelled with the Vols.
Six of Tennessee's 2015 opponents -- Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas and Vanderbilt -- changed their offensive coordinators this offseason.
The Vols now find themselves in a similar position.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.