I made it no secret this week that I thought Wofford head coach Josh Conklin would’ve been a great fit as the Tennessee Vols’ defensive coordinator under Josh Heupel.
But I’m not the one making the hire. That was up to Heupel and UT athletic director Danny White.
On Monday, Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported that Penn State co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks is set to be hired as the Vols’ new defensive coordinator.
Banks previously spoke to Tennessee last week and wasn’t interested. The Vols circled back to Banks on Sunday night after a deal with Kansas City Chiefs linebackers coach Matt House fell apart at the last minute.
Banks will be tasked with being the CEO of the Vols’ defense. Heupel doesn’t get very involved on the defensive side of the ball, which will essentially mean that Banks is like a second head coach for Tennessee.
So how good of a hire is this for the Vols?
While Banks wouldn’t have been my first choice, this is still a hire that could work out very well for Tennessee.
First off, Banks is a great recruiter. He has strong midwest connections (especially in Michigan). He doesn’t have an extensive history in the south (he coached at Memphis for two seasons in the early 2000s), but if you can recruit, you can recruit. I think his recruiting abilities will translate just fine in the SEC.
What’s really important here is the defense. It’s hard to get a read on what exactly Banks likes to do on defense because he’s often shared those responsibilities.
When Banks was hired at Illinois in 2012 (after he worked with Butch Jones from 2007-2011 at Central Michigan and Cincinnati), then-head coach Tim Beckman told ESPN that Banks would run a “very aggressive defensive system”.
An aggressive defensive system is exactly what the Vols need to go along with Heupel’s up-tempo offense.
In 2015, Illinois had the No. 38 scoring defense in the nation. New Illinois head coach Bill Cubit, however, wasn’t happy with the defense. Cubit wanted defensive line coach Mike Phair to handle more defensive playcalling duties. Banks wasn’t a fan of this, so he left the program (it was an amicable split).
The next season, without Banks, the Illinois defense ranked No. 94 in the nation in scoring defense. Phair, who was promoted to defensive coordinator after 2015, was demoted after the 2016 season when Lovie Smith took over the program.
It seems clear that Banks had a positive impact on the Illinois defense during his time in Champaign.
When Banks went to Penn State in 2016, he teamed up with a head coach (James Franklin) that shared a similar “aggressive” philosophy when it came to defense.
“We’re not a suffocating defense where we take away every yard on the field,” said Franklin in 2017. “But the most important thing is that we keep people out of the end zone and we create turnovers.”
Again, that’s exactly what the Tennessee defense will be looking to achieve in the Heupel era.
Will Banks be successful at Tennessee?
That’s impossible to know. Banks has never led a defense all by himself. But he has some experience calling plays (Banks’ resume, by the way, is a lot better than Al Washington’s, someone who the Vols were willing to pay $1.5 million to be a first-time defensive coordinator). And he’s well regarded by fellow coaches (an SEC assistant coach messaged me on Monday morning and said hiring Banks is a good move by Tennessee).
Handing the reigns over to Banks could be viewed as risky. But isn’t every hire a risk in college football?
Banks doesn’t have to be perfect, thanks to Heupel’s offense, which is expected to be explosive. He just has to be good enough.
And right now he has a clean slate at Tennessee to establish himself as a solid defensive coordinator in the SEC.
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