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The 15 most important assistant coaching hires of 2021 -- No. 11: Tim Banks, Tennessee

At a program that's put the Power T in instability, Tim Banks hopes to bring a steady hand to Tennessee's defense

Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2021 season and beyond.

Who: Tim Banks, Tennessee

Title: Defensive coordinator/safeties coach

Previous stop: Penn State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach (2016-20)

Why he's important: The future is still unwritten, but the first couple paragraphs in the next chapter of Tennessee football are already typed on the page.

The first is that this season will probably be pretty rough. The program has but one winning season among its last four also happened to be hit the hardest by the transfer portal.

Those weren't scrubs transferring out, either. Henry To'to'o, Quavaris Crouch, Darel Middleton, Eric Gray, Ty Chandler, Wanya Morris were all among the best players on the team, guys that would've formed the backbone of the 2021 Vols had they stuck around.

The other certainty is that Tennessee will be good on offense, and likely sooner than later. In his first season running Missouri's offense, the Tigers went from 125th nationally in yards per play to 31st. From there, his offenses finished sixth, ninth, eighth and 20th. 

Beyond all that lies an ocean of uncertainty. The most pressing question: Will the defense stop anybody?

Born in Detroit, Tim Banks played cornerback at Central Michigan in the early 1990s. (His freshman season saw the Chippewas lose one game but tie four.) His first full-time job came as Ferris State's DBs coach in 1997, and his first D1 gig was at Bowling Green, coaching running backs and defensive backs on the staff before Urban Meyer's hiring. From there, it was off to two seasons at Memphis, four at Maryland, then back to his alma mater as defensive coordinator. Working under Butch Jones, he helped CMU win two conference titles, and his 2009 unit led the MAC in scoring by more than 10 percent. 

He'd join Jones at Cincinnati as a co-coordinator before Tim Beckman made him his coordinator at Illinois. His first three units finished next-to-last in the Big Ten before improving to sixth in 2015. 


Previous installments: No. 15: Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech | No. 14: Travis Williams, UCF | No. 13: Liam Coen, Kentucky | No. 12: Jess Simpson, Miami


With Illinois facing a total reset at the end of the Beckman/Cubit era, Banks landed on James Franklin's Penn State staff -- the two worked together at Maryland -- where he'd co-coordinate the defense and run the secondary alongside Brent Pry. His last full season in State College saw Penn State allow the third fewest touchdown passes in the nation. In 2018, the Nittany Lions held three opponents to 60 yards or fewer, the most by a Penn State team in a generation. 

He now steps into an SEC East that, it's fair to say, is as challenging defensively as it's ever been. Dan Mullen at Florida. Todd Monken at Georgia. Eliah Drinkwitz at Mizzou, and now the Liam Coen experiment at Kentucky. Alabama, not an SEC East foe but an annual Vols opponent nonetheless, now has the very best offensive in college football year in and year out. The breaks will be few and far between. 

At a press conference earlier this week, Banks said Tennessee hasn't settled on a base scheme yet, leaning on every defensive coordinator's favorite buzz word: "We're going to be multiple." 

Versatility and deception will be priorities. "I believe in versatility. That's what we're trying to develop." Asked about developing pass rushers, Banks said defenders don't have to place a hand on the ground to rush the quarterback. 

"We want to play offense on defense. The only way we're getting that is if (the offense) doesn't know exactly what they're getting from snap to snap."

And while it's fair to ask what Tennessee is getting in Banks, it's even more pressing to ask why Banks left a stable Penn State program to work at a place that has put the Power T in instability over the past decade. 

"I think it starts at the top with Coach Heup," Banks said in February. "The success he's had as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself, but in talking to some of my guys that had a relationship with him, and everything that I've heard, being a great man, obviously a great coach, it intrigued me. Obviously we know there's some work to be done to get back to where we want to go, but at the end of the day having a chance to work with great people and having a chance to do it together was an opportunity I didn't feel like I could pass up."