Offensive Coaching Staff
Assistant Coach - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
Mike Bajakian was named Northwestern's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Dec. 11, 2019.
Bajakian joined the Wildcats after a year in the same position at Boston College, where he led the Eagles to the top rushing attack in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the best ball security in the Conference and a ground game that ranked No. 3 in Power-5 football in yards/game during the 2019 regular-season. In nine seasons as a college offensive coordinator, Bajakian's offenses averaged 424 yards and 31.3 points/game and ranked in the Top-40 nationally in total offense seven times.
Prior to his time in Boston, Bajakian spent four seasons as quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his debut season with the Bucs, Bajakian and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston piloted Tampa Bay's offense to a Top-5 finish in the NFL and the most yards in team history. Winston set team rookie records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, pass attempts, pass completions and passer rating.
In 2016, as a second-year quarterback under Bajakian's mentorship, Winston set single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,090) and passing touchdowns (28), becoming the youngest player to throw for 50 touchdowns in NFL history and the first player in league history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. The 2017 season saw Winston post career bests in completion percentage (63.8 pct.), yards per attempt (7.9) and passer rating (92.2), while posting a career-low interception rate (2.5 pct.). Winston finished his third season with the third-most passing yards by a player from their rookie season through their third season, trailing only Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning.
The Buccaneers led the NFL with 320.3 passing yards per game in 2018 and finished with the league's No. 3 total offense (415.5 yards per game). Tampa's quarterbacks ended the season with 5,125 passing yards, 36 touchdown passes and a 65.3% completion percentage. The Buccaneers finished with 71 passing plays of 20+ yards and 14 passing plays of 40 yards or more.
Bajakian joined the Buccaneers from the University of Tennessee where, as the team's offensive coordinator, he was part of the coaching staff that helped the 2014 Volunteers earn the school's first bowl game appearance since 2010 and first bowl victory since 2007, winning the 2015 Taxslayer Bowl.
Prior to joining the Volunteers, Bajakian worked as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the University of Cincinnati (2010-12), where he helped lead the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East Conference titles in each of his last two seasons. In his final campaign, Cincinnati led the Big East in scoring offense, rushing offense and yards per play.
From 2007-09, Bajakian worked as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Central Michigan University, where the team posted its three highest-scoring offenses since joining the MAC in 1975 and set or broke more than 30 school records.
Bajakian's NFL resume also includes three seasons with the Chicago Bears as offensive quality control coach (2004-06). He was a member of the 2006 Bears team that won the NFC Championship and played in Super Bowl XLI.
A native of River Vale, New Jersey, Bajakian was an All-New England Small College Athletic Conference and All-ECAC quarterback at Williams College.
Assistant Coach - Offensive Line
Kurt Anderson was name the program's offensive line coach on Jan. 14, 2019, after serving the 2018 season as a quality control analyst for the Wildcats.
Anderson previously spent two years as the offensive line coach at Arkansas following three seasons with the Buffalo Bills as an assistant offensive line coach. While at Arkansas, he helped mentor 2017 Detroit Lions first round draft pick and All-SEC offensive lineman Frank Ragnow. The Razorbacks' offensive line helped pave the way for running back Rawleigh Williams III to capture the SEC regular-season rushing title with 1,326 yards and provided time for quarterback Austin Allen to throw for an SEC-best 3,430 yards.
Senior left tackle Dan Skipper earned second-team All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association and became just the sixth offensive lineman in program history to earn All-SEC status in two different seasons, while Ragnow was named the nation's best offensive lineman, best run blocker and a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus (PFF) and was a second-team All-SEC choice by the Associated Press.
Prior to Arkansas, Anderson spent the 2013-15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills as assistant offensive line coach. In 2015, the Bills led the NFL in rush yards per game (152.0) and yards per rush (4.8), and were fifth in the AFC in total offense (360.9). Anderson served as the team's primary offensive line coach for the first six weeks of the season, the organization's first under head coach Rex Ryan. Center Eric Wood and left guard Richie Incognito were both named to the Pro Bowl, anchoring the NFL's 12th-youngest offensive line while paving the way for Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy was one of three Buffalo players to rush for 500-plus yards in 2015, marking the first time that feat has been accomplished by the Bills since 1962.
Before joining the Bills, Anderson spent five seasons at Eastern Michigan University, primarily as the run game coordinator (2010-12). His time at Eastern Michigan started in 2008 as the tight ends coach before moving to the offensive line and run game coordinator where the ground attack saw immediate results. The Eagles posted the 14th-best run game in the nation in 2011, after accumulating 2,620 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. It marked just the second time in program history that Eastern Michigan had rushed for more than 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (2010-11).
Anderson joined Eastern Michigan after a two-year stint at his alma mater Michigan. While on staff with the Wolverines, Anderson spent the 2007 campaign as a graduate assistant coach for the offensive line, helping develop All-America tackle and the overall No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Jake Long. In 2006, Anderson was the defensive quality control assistant coach. He helped develop current NFL players Lamar Woodley and Alan Branch.
Prior to his stint at Michigan, Anderson was an assistant coach at Indiana State where he worked with the offensive tackles and tight ends.
A standout along the offensive line at the University of Michigan, Anderson graduated in 2001 with a degree in sport management and communication from the Division of Kinesiology.
Anderson was a two-year letterwinner (2000-01) as the starting center and received the Hugh R. Rader Jr. Memorial Award as the team's top offensive lineman and was selected All-Big Ten honorable mention following the 2001 season. As a player and coach, Anderson has been involved in seven bowl games, highlighted by Michigan's 1998 Rose Bowl win that sealed the program's national championship.
Anderson and his wife Jennifer have five children: sons Hawken and Torin, daughter Dagny and twins Odin and Raina.
Assistant Coach - Running Backs/Recruiting Coordinator
Lou Ayeni returned to his alma mater as the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator on January 8, 2018.
In his first season at Northwestern, Ayeni saw to the development of true first year back Isaiah Bowser, who stepped up after sophomore Jeremy Larkin was forced to medically retire. Under Ayeni, Bowser rushed for 866 yards and averaged over 4 yards per rush. He also pushed the development of senior walk-on Chad Hanaoka, who earned the most playing time of his career, tallying 120 yards and was critical in pass blocking in the backfield as the Wildcats' primary third-down back.
As recruiting coordinator, Ayeni helped the ‘Cats secure a top 50 national recruiting class, according to Rivals.
Ayeni spent the last four seasons at Iowa State University, the final two as Associate Head Coach and Running Game Coordinator. The Cyclones increased their rushing production by nearly 60 yards-per-game from his first to second year on staff. This season Iowa State ranked No. 1 in the nation with just one fumble lost and No. 2 in FBS with only eight total fumbles during the campaign, the third time in the last four years they ranked among the nation's Top-16 in total fumbles.
Ayeni’s work in 2017 was nationally recognized, earning Running Backs Coach of the Year honors by 247Sports behind the incredible play of sophomore David Montgomery.
Montgomery, who was a First-Team All-American by Pro Football Focus and a First-Team All-Big 12 selection, ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (88.2), becoming just the 14th back in school history to break the 1,000-yard barrier (1,146).
Montgomery was one of the toughest backs in the nation, forcing an incredible 109 missed tackles and losing just one fumble in 294 touches.
Ayeni’s emphasis on ball security helped the Cyclones achieve one their best seasons in school history in 2017, racking up the second-most wins in the history of the program (8-5) and winning the 2017 Liberty Bowl, just the fourth bowl victory in school history.
Prior to his tenure in Ames, he spent four years on staff at the University of Toledo, the last three as Associate Head Coach and Run Game Coordinator. There he helped recruit and mentor 2017 National Football League rushing leader Kareem Hunt. The Rockets qualified for a bowl game in three of the last four seasons and finished among the top five rushing team in the MAC all four years. Ayeni helped place a running back on an All-MAC Team and mentored a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his last four seasons.
Ayeni's coaching career started with a two-year stint as a graduate assistant at Northwestern.
A native of Woodbury, Minnesota, Ayeni began his Wildcats career as a running back and was part of Northwestern's 2000 Big Ten Championship squad, before switching to safety for his senior season. He graduated in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in communications and a minor in sociology. After graduation, Ayeni played for Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts as a safety in 2004-05 before joining the St. Louis Rams in 2005-06 as a linebacker.
Ayeni played his prep ball at Woodbury High School where he helped lead the Royals to their only state championship in 1998. He is the school's career leader in yards (3,504) and touchdowns (47). He ran for 2,112 yards and 34 touchdowns his senior season, both school records.
Ayeni participated in the Bill Walsh Coaching Internship with the Chicago Bears at their 2009 training camp, and in 2016, he was selected to the prestigious NCAA Champion Forum hosted by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
Ayeni and his wife, Patrice, have a son, Jayden.
Assistant Coach - Tight Ends
In February of 2009, Bob Heffner joined Pat Fitzgerald's staff to coach the Wildcats' superbacks (NU's hybrid position for its tight ends, h-backs and fullbacks), bringing with him more than 30 years of collegiate coaching experience to Evanston.
In 2018 Heffner led a productive superback group, led by junior Cam Green, who earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention distinction. Green appeared in every game, making a reception in 12 of the last 13 games. Green grabbed a TD reception in Big Ten Championship against Ohio State and was crucial in the Holiday Bowl comeback against Utah, catching 7 passes.
Heffner also watched over James Prather, who served mainly in short yardage blocking situations. However, Prather did record career highs in both receptions and yards in 2018.
When tasked with replacing current Cleveland Browns starting fullback Dan Vitale, Heffner helped turn Garrett Dickerson into an all-league superback in 2016 and 2017. Dickerson started all 13 games for the Wildcats in 2016, hauling in 34 catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns, including what proved to be the game winner in a 31-24 victory over No. 23 Pittsburgh in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. He ranked second among Big Ten tight ends with five touchdown catches. In 2017, Dickerson elevated his game even further as he recorded 37 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns, earning another All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection.
Heffner's tutelage of NU's Drake Dunsmore over his first three years on staff represented a resounding success, culminating in Dunsmore being voted the inaugural winner of the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year Award in 2011. Dunsmore, who also was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, became NU's career leader for receiving yards by a tight end and graduated with 1,567 yards on 143 catches.
Also a celebrated run-blocker, Dunsmore put his pass-catching abilities on display in a memorable performance at Indiana on Oct. 29. Dunsmore set an NU school record with four touchdown catches and finished with 112 yards receiving (16.0 yards per reception) in the game.
A year later, Heffner's guidance ensured a smooth transition to Dunsmore's replacement, which came in the form of true first-year Dan Vitale.
Vitale arrived at Northwestern with the possibility of playing multiple positions but found a home in Heffner's position room and soon was making major contributions on the field for NU. He went on to start 10 games and finish fifth on the team in both receptions (28) and receiving yards (288). An ESPN.com All-Rookie Team selection, Vitale came up especially big for the 'Cats in wins at Michigan State (nine catches, 110 yards) and in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (seven catches, 82 yards).
As a sophomore in 2013, Vitale finished third on Northwestern with 34 catches and three touchdowns and fourth with 382 receiving yards. The next year, in 2014, Vitale was second on the Wildcats with 40 catches and with over 400 yards. He was tied for first with two touchdowns.
In 2015, Vitale excelled in his last year under Heffner, earning a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team and ultimately a selection in the NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Vitale was an integral part of the offense and led the team in receptions (33), yards (355) and touchdowns (4).
In his first season at Northwestern, Heffner's superbacks played a large role in Northwestern's passing offense, which topped the Big Ten and ranked 13th nationally. Dunsmore, then just a sophomore, ranked second in the Big Ten among tight ends and third on the team with 47 catches, including a memorable 66-yard catch-and-run touchdown in which he broke multiple tackles in the 2010 Outback Bowl.
The Wildcats' superbacks were led by Dunsmore for the second-straight season in 2010. Dunsmore was NU's second-leading receiver on the year with 40 catches for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Dunsmore earned consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention honors at the tight end position.
Heffner spent the last eight seasons (2001-08) at Lafayette College, serving as the Leopards' offensive line coach from 2001 through 2007, before assuming Lafayette's offensive coordinator position in 2008. In 2002, Heffner, was named the program's associate head coach. During those eight seasons, he mentored offensive lines that served as fronts for some of the Patriot League's most prolific offenses. In the past five years, Leopard linemen have been honored 13 times for all-league play.
During the 2008 season when he oversaw the Leopards' offense, Lafayette finished 7-4 overall, ranked second in Patriot League rushing and led the nation with fewest turnovers. In 2006, when Lafayette won its third straight Patriot League title and advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs, Heffner's offensive line blocked for tailback Jonathan Hurt, the conference's Offensive Player of the Year. Six times in his last eight seasons with Lafayette, the Leopards ranked either first or second in Patriot League rushing or passing. He won three-straight Patriot League titles and went to the FCS playoffs in all three of those seasons.
Heffner also had two earlier successful stints at Lafayette, which were sandwiched around four years in the professional ranks. In 1988 and '89, the Coshocton, Ohio, native coached the offensive line and helped the 1988 Leopards to the Patriot League title. He then worked with CFL's British Columbia Lions (1990-92) as their co-offensive coordinator, which featured Doug Flutie, the CFL's MVP in 1991 and Jim Mills, the two-time Most Valuable Offensive Lineman in 1990 and '91. Then Heffner spent one season with the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm as their offensive coordinator and director of player personnel in 1993 before returning to Lafayette for his second coaching stint with the Leopards in the fall of '93. He was the Leopards' offensive coordinator/offensive line coach for three seasons, which included a Patriot League title in 1994.
In 1996, Heffner was hired by then-Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak and coached the Huskies' offensive line. In early 1997, when former NU assistant coach Ron Vanderlinden was tabbed the head coach at Maryland, Heffner joined the Terrapins' staff, coaching the Terps' tight ends and tackles for two seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
In Heffner's first season directing Maryland's offensive unit, the Terrapins posted the 10th-highest scoring average in school history and its best in seven previous seasons. Maryland ranked first in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and 12th nationally in rushing yards per game (234.1), and tailback LaMont Jordan earned second-team All-America honors after finishing fifth in the country in rushing.
He graduated from Temple University in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in secondary education, and then served as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater for the '79 season. That season, the Owls played in the Garden State Bowl against California. Heffner then began his full-time collegiate coaching career at Illinois State as the interior defensive line coach in 1981 before taking over as offensive line coach during a seven-year stay with the Redbirds.
As a student-athlete at Temple, Heffner played three years as an offensive guard and was a member of Owl teams that made Mirage Bowl appearances in 1977 and 1978.
Heffner, and his wife, Nancy, a native of Warren Glen, N.J., have three daughters, Katie, Molly and Shelby.
Assistant Coach - Wide Receivers
Dennis Springer recently concluded his eighth year as Northwestern's wide receivers coach after joining the program on Jan. 31, 2011. He came to NU after spending the previous three seasons at Indiana University, serving as the assistant head coach and running backs coach, as well as the Hoosiers' co-special teams coordinator.
Springer watched over a well-rounded receiving corps that ranked third in the Big Ten in 2018 with 3352 yards. He has also coached one of the most productive wide receivers in Wildcat history as senior Flynn Nagel rose to 10th all time for career receptions at Northwestern.
Nagel had 12 catches for 220 receiving yards against Nebraska, the most by a Big Ten receiver since 2013 and third most in program history. Nagel also earned All Big-Ten honorable mention.
Springer also oversaw the development of several young pass-catchers. First-year J.J. Jefferson appeared in 12 games and scored two touchdowns. Had career-best games in wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. Sophomore Kyric McGowan got time in 13 games in 2018, scoring two touchdowns and averaging over 20 yards per catch.
Junior Bennett Skowronek had the play of the season when he laid out, diving into the endzone to make a one-handed touchdown grab against Iowa, which ultimately sent the ‘Cats to the first Big Ten Championship game in program history.
In his sixth season leading the Wildcats' receiving corp, Springer saw senior Austin Carr post arguably the greatest season by a receiving in program history. Carr became just the third player since 1990 to lead the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns and was named a finalist for the 2016 Biletnikoff Award given to the nation's top receiver. He set a new NU single-season record with 1,247 receiving yards, tied the program mark with 12 touchdown receptions and hauled in 90 catches, the third-best mark in program history. Carr went on to sign with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent and is now on the New Orleans Saints 53-man roster.
Following the departure of Carr, Springer helped usher in a new crop of receivers in 2017 who helped fuel a passing offense that averaged just over 238 passing yards per game. Three Wildcats’ receivers finished the year with over 30 receptions for the first time since 2013, with junior Flynn Nagel leading the team with 48 receptions to go along with 489 yard and two touchdowns. Sophomore Bennett Skowronek had a breakout sophomore campaign, finishing with 45 catches for a team-high 644 yards and five touchdowns, while senior Macan Wilson also finished with 32 catches fro 446 yards.
In his first season in Evanston, Springer oversaw the continued growth of Jeremy Ebert into one of the most prolific wide receivers in the Big Ten. Ebert's 1,025 receiving yards in 2011 represent the first 1,000-yard season by a Wildcat pass-catcher since D'Wayne Bates in 1998 and the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. Ebert, a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the media who later was drafted by the New England Patriots, ranked second in the league with 11 touchdown catches and third with 5.9 catches per game.
Additionally, Springer mentored true first-year Christian Jones during his rise to the position of starting 'Z' wideout and helped Kain Colter thrive in his newfound receiver role. Veteran Demetrius Fields came on down the stretch, catching a touchdown pass in three straight games to end the season and totaling a career-best 309 receiving yards for the year.
In all, Springer's wideouts contributed to the Wildcats leading the Big Ten in passing average with 256.6 yards per game.
In 2012, Springer developed a deep corps of receivers that was equally as committed to run-blocking on the perimeter as it was to making its presence known through the air. At season's end, Christian Jones emerged as the team leader in receptions (35) and receiving yards (412), while Tony Jones made a successful return from a leg injury that kept him out of the 2011 season to haul in four TD catches.
Those two Jones (no relation) were again hard to keep up with in 2013, combining for more than 100 receptions and nearly 1,300 yards receiving. Christian Jones completed the year with a monster game vs. rival Illinois, grabbing 13 passes for 182 yards and two highlight reel TDs. Senior Rashad Lawrence also completed his Wildcat tenure with 31 grabs for 463 yards on the year, including a career-high 149 against No. 4/3 Ohio State.
Kyle Prater led all Wildcats in receiving in 2014, leading the team in catches (51), yards receiving (535) and touchdown receptions (2). He caught 10 passes en route to an upset over Notre Dame and collected his first career touchdown in the matchup versus Northern Illinois. Tony Jones trailed just behind Prater, making 35 catches with an average of 9.2 yards receiving per catch.
Christian Jones and Austin Carr led Springer’s receiving corps in 2015, as they picked up two touchdowns each. Garrett Dickerson, Miles Shuler, and Mike McHugh also had strong seasons as the receiving unit developed chemistry with redshirt first-year quarterback Clayton Thorson.
Springer's best rushing season in Bloomington came in 2008 when Indiana finished sixth in the Big Ten with 2,003 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns. The Hoosiers averaged 4.5 yards per carry for the year, posting their best rushing season since 2001.
Springer's best rushing season in Bloomington came in 2008 when Indiana finished sixth in the Big Ten with 2,003 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns. The Hoosiers averaged 4.5 yards per carry for the year, posting their best rushing season since 2001.
On special teams, Indiana ranked third in the Big Ten in 2010 in kickoff returns, averaging 23.1 yards after racking up 1,476 yards on 64 returns. Tandon Doss led the Hoosiers with 1,016 yards on 41 returns (24.8 yard average).
Prior to his stint at Indiana, Springer spent one season as the defensive secondary coach at Western Kentucky University as the Hilltoppers made the transition from the Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Springer's coaching career has its roots in the Mid-American Conference as he spent four seasons at Bowling Green State University prior to joining the staff at WKU. Springer was in charge of the running backs from 2003 to 2005 before making the transition to the defensive side of the ball, taking responsibility of the safeties for the 2006 season. He helped guide the Falcons to the 2003 MAC West Division title and a 28-24 victory over Northwestern in the Motor City Bowl. BGSU also won the 2004 GMAC Bowl, defeating Memphis 52-35, and captured the 2005 MAC East Division championship.
While at Bowling Green, Springer worked with Northwestern's current offensive coordinator, Mick McCall.
Springer's lengthiest tenure came at Ball State University where he spent 10 seasons with the Cardinals in a handful of capacities. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the 1993 and 1994 seasons before being promoted to wide receivers coach in 1995. Springer filled that role until the 1999 season when he resumed responsibility of the outside linebackers, a position he held for two years before being named the defensive secondary coach for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Ball State made a pair of appearances in the Las Vegas Bowl (1993, 1996) during that time.
A Fort Wayne, Ind., native, Springer earned his bachelor of science in secondary education from Butler University in 1993 after helping the Bulldogs to three Midwest Intercollegiate Football Conference championships. Springer also served as a team captain of the 1991 team.
Springer and his wife, Nicole, have two daughters, Sophia and Sydney.
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