Before becoming a Hall of Fame college basketball head coach, Jim Boeheim was the varsity golf coach at Syracuse University.
Mike Bajakian, the offensive coordinator for the UC football team, has a similar line in the early portion of his resume.
“I almost don’t want to admit this,” Bajakian told me with a laugh, “but in addition to coaching football and baseball, I was a head bowling coach at the high school level.”
Hey, it’s a sport where you throw the ball on every play right?
All kidding aside, when you look at Bajakian’s history as a football coach, it’s easy to see why he’s held in such high regard by UC head coach Butch Jones.
In 2001, Mike helped coach the punt rush at the University of Michigan. The Wolverines blocked a school-record eight punts that year.
From 2004 to 2006, he was on the offensive staff for the Chicago Bears, culminating in a trip to Super Bowl XLI in his final season.
Since 2007, Bajakian has been the offensive coordinator under Jones at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. More than 30 school records were set during their tenure at CMU, and at UC, the Bearcats have ranked in the top two in the Big East in scoring in each of the last two seasons.
“There isn’t anyone that I trust more than Mike Bajakian handling our offense,” said Coach Jones. “We share the exact same beliefs and it’s a comfort level where we always know what the other person is thinking. I think that comes with time spent working with each other. He is of the highest character, he’s extremely competitive, and I can’t say enough about him.”
“Coach Bajakian doesn’t like to lose,” said Isaiah Pead. “He’s not a big guy, but when he speaks, we all listen. We all respect him and know that he wants to win just as bad as we do.”
“I think they accidently let me in,” said Bajakian. “Small college football gives 5-foot-10; 165 pound backup high school quarterbacks a chance to play at the college level. A 0-0 tie was the very anticlimactic end to my college playing career.”
In 2010 and 2011, Forbes Magazine ranked Williams College as the best undergraduate institution in the United States – ahead of every Ivy League university. Bajakian majored in history but knew before graduation that he wanted to pursue a career in football.
“Since the day I realized that I wasn’t going to play for a living, I knew that I wanted to stay involved in the game and always thought that I would be a teacher and a coach,” Bajakian told me. “Late in my college career, I got the itch to get into coaching at the college level and pursued it after two years in (high school) teaching.
“People often ask me why I coach and I tell them that I’m not qualified to do anything else. But the reality of it is, I love the relationships. There are so many emotional highs and lows that you go through as a coach that you develop really close relationships. It’s not something that you can get in the everyday workforce – I truly believe that.”
Bajakian’s relationships with the players go beyond football.
“We get the opportunity to mentor young men who are still very impressionable and who are still developing their character and world view,” said Bajakian. “I try to talk to them about quite a bit more than football and academics. I gave a physics lesson in our meeting the other day to try to illustrate a point.”
“He’s well-rounded to say the least,” said Coach Jones. “The great thing about Mike is that he is a student of the game. We are in a CANI Principle business – Constant And Never Ending Improvement. He is always doing that.”
“If you spend two minutes with him, you know that he is a very intelligent guy,” said Pead. “Spend another two minutes with him, and you can tell that he knows a lot about football. We’re blessed to have him and hopefully he can stick around.”
Bajakian says that becoming a head coach is one of his goals, but he appears to be in no hurry.
“For me, every day is about learning and growing professionally,” Mike told me. “Honestly, I could be in no better place than right here in Cincinnati because I’m learning from the best coach in the country – I honestly mean that. When it comes to motivating a team and getting so much out of players and coaches, I really believe that Butch Jones is the best in the country.”
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