Bajakian talks decision, timing of departure
In his first public comments since accepting a post with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Bajakian shared with VolQuest.com the difficulty of this week in terms of sending his career path in an all-new direction while he believes Tennessee football is on the verge of "exploding onto the national scene."
VOLQUEST: Can you take us through the timeline? What has this week been like for you and what were key factors in the decision-making process?
MIKE BAJAKIAN: Since it first came up (Sunday), it planted a seed. It was exciting to examine and very attractive to me, but I was torn. It was an emotional four days for me and my wife. I have ... There were times I said to myself I'm definitely taking this job, and there were times I said to myself I'm crazy for doing it. Every time I kept weighting the pros and cons, was I staying or going, and I kept looking at the Bucs organization and obviously I was with Lovie Smith in Chicago, and the thing that kept coming back to me is that the best thing is to take this opportunity. But it's been an incredibly emotional four days.
This is such a great place in so many ways. The fan base is incredible. The administration here is incredible. We've got it going. We really do. We have it going in the right direction, and I think it's just about ready to explode on a national stage here for many years to come. Leaving now is bittersweet because I'm not able to enjoy the fruits of labor that we have put in, but it's an opportunity that I couldn't pass up.
VQ: You've been with Butch Jones for eight-straight seasons as his coordinator. How much did that relationship factor into your decision?
MB: That was one of the harder things, beside the fact that I truly am leaving a great situation, I was leaving a guy that's been a mentor to me. Butch Jones, who has frankly put me in a position to have good success, that was hard. He's without a doubt been the most influential coach in my career. He's helped me lot of ways, professionally and personally. He did a reading at my wedding. Really it's the first time in nine years that I'm not going to be working with him. It's going to be vastly different, and that's a big part of why it was such a hard decision to make.
I think he and I both had emotions of not wanting to go in a separate direction, but ultimately when the decision made and we had a conversation Thursday morning, it was emotional and it was hard. But there's a mutual respect for one another. I think he's helped me tremendously in my career, and I've liked to think I've helped him in lot of ways too. He wished me luck, we hugged and we left it on very good terms. I appreciate that from him.
VQ: It's not necessarily traditional timing for a coaching move. How was that a factor, and did you get to discuss the matter in person with Tennessee's quarterbacks?
MB: As Butch and I had the conversation and we talked the timeline to make the announcement, we mutually agreed that Monday would be the best time to make the announcement. I called a meeting with the quarterbacks at 2:30 (Thursday afternoon); at least I had already called the meeting before the news broke and hit the public. They were probably wondering why I was calling the meeting to begin with. Unfortunate how they found out, but I did get to meet with them face to face. Individually and as a group. Guys like Josh Dobbs, who has just grown tremendously and a guy I would love to have worked with through the end of his career to see what we could accomplish together. Even midterm guys like Quinten Dormady, Jauan Jennings who are here already. When you come in midyear you don't think the guy that recruited you will leave three weeks later. So to that extent I was very apologetic to them that I was not sticking around. They all said they understood it was an opportunity that I could not pass up.
Even Justin (Worley) came by, and I'm sure we'll keep in touch, especially for what it's worth, Justin, Nate (Peterman) and Josh, guys that have been here, and even the newer guys, I told them all, Listen I'd like to keep in touch with all of you. I know how life is, been through this enough to know it might not happen, but if you ever need anything, I don't care if we've not talked in 10 years, shoot me email, pick up the phone and I'll b there. Letter of recommendation, something in your life, whatever. I'll be there. I'm pretty confident, especially Justin, Josh and Nate, the guys that have been around long enough that there's a lot of respect for them and a lot of respect I have for them. I appreciate all they've done on and off the field. I will definitely be keeping in touch with them.
VQ: What has the time in the past 24-48 hours been like for you overall?
MB: This decision was not easy at all. My wife loves it here, loves the community, loves our neighborhood, our girls' school. She, too, was torn but it's a conversation she and I had a lot. We both came to the same conclusion, having this opportunity was too great to pass up. It's the same way for me. I drop my girls off at school this morning, and I'm driving down Neyland. Wow. It's hard not to get emotional. It's been such a great place. The support from fans and people in the community … it's been unreal. It's part of what makes this place so special. They've just been overwhelmingly supportive.