Tim Banks has a big task at Illinois. Not only does he have to fill the shoes of highly respected former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, but he has to run a unit that might be on the field a lot thanks to the up-tempo spread offense the Illini intend to play under Tim Beckman.
But Banks has some impressive credentials of his own, having overseen the defense at Central Michigan before going to Cincinnati, where he engineered quite a defensive turnaround last season. I caught up to the 40-year-old Detroit native recently to get his thoughts on coming to Champaign:
What was it that appealed to you about the job at Illinois?
Tim Banks: I've had a chance to work with Coach Beckman previously when we were both at Bowling Green, and I had the chance to coach against him in the Mid-American Conference when he was at Toledo. So I knew what kind of program he ran. So it was having the opportunity to coach with him, and obviously the opportunity to get into the Big Ten, which is where my roots are. I'm a Michigan boy, so having a chance to compete in a league with this great tradition was one I couldn't pass up.
Did you grow up following Big Ten football and dreaming of playing or coaching in it one day?
TB: Absolutely. You can't live in the Midwest without being affected by Big Ten football. All those teams, I saw week in and week out. And really, that's all I knew growing up. So having a chance to coach in this program and being able to compete against those teams, I don't think it gets any better than that. I really don't.
What's your basic defensive philosophy?
TB: We're going to play hard. That's the very first thing we talk about. We're going to play hard, and we want to be extremely fast and extremely physical. I think those are the three things we talk about on Day One, before we even talk about schematics or any of those things. We talk about just playing hard and with great passion and great energy and playing tough. To me, when we do those things, it really doesn't matter what type of package we run. We're going to make sure we're extremely tough, being physical and have great fundamentals. That's really our formula.
You coached defense alongside Butch Jones, who runs a fast-paced spread, and now you'll do it again with Beckman. Do you have to have a different philosophy when you're paired with an offense that scores a lot of points and often puts you back on the field quickly?
TB: I think that's something guys are figuring out. It's a little bit different strategy when you're a defensive coordinator with those type of teams. Our thing is, you need to play a lot of guys, because our offense is going to do a great job of scoring a lot of points, just like they did at the other place. So we've got to be ready for that challenge. We have to really be making sure that everybody's accountable, ready to go, getting out on the field and playing their role. The more guys we can play, the usually the better it is for us, because our offense is going to score a lot of points and we're going to play a lot of snaps. But that just kind of comes with the territory. If you don't enjoy playing football, you don't need to be playing defense and you definitely don't need to be playing for us. We're going to play for a standard, and those guys are really going to love getting out there and being a part of it.
How much chance have you had to meet with the current players so far?
TB: We're really just starting to get into that right now. We're just in the infant stages. We're starting to talk academics and getting to know them and talk about their families and their backgrounds. I'm excited about these kids, because they seem like a great bunch of kids who love to play football. They're excited about being a part of Illini Nation and getting a degree here. Having been around these kids, I can see why people are excited about this program.
I covered your team at Cincinnati two years ago when the defense was young and lacked depth and really struggled. The defense made great strides this past season and was one of the best in the Big East. What was the key to that turnaround?
TB: I think, like I stated earlier, when you play with those type of offenses, you're going to play a lot of snaps. But if you don't have the type of depth to sustain that effort, then sometimes it can be extremely tough. So those guys hung in there and were a lot older. The first year we played a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and this year we had a lot more juniors and seniors. And those guys believed in the system and hung in there, and we got some younger guys to come along and accept their roles. Anytime guys believe in each other and play hard for each other, you've got a chance to be special. That's what those guys were, special.
They played extremely hard, were extremely prideful and knew they could play better, and they did. I think we were one of the top defenses in the country. We played more snaps -- if you look at the top 30 in the country, we were probably top five in snaps played -- but still our yards per carry were one of the tops in the conference and the nation. And that's a tribute to those kids and how they played.
How have recruits accepted you and the new staff so far?
TB: It's been great. Obviously we have a new staff, and people are trying to get a feel for you. But I think as we get out there and share the vision that our head football coach has, I think more kids will start to buy in. But we've only been here for a couple of months, really only a couple of weeks. I've already bought in. I understand why this is a special place. Right now, we're trying to get that message across to as many guys as we can.
How hard is it trying to recruit when you're getting such a late start?
TB: It's really difficult. It really is. Recruiting is about trust and relationships, and we don't know the kids as well. But the thing we've found, as we've had a chance to really get in the homes and spend time with the families, there are usually some good things that come about. But trust is built over time, and obviously we haven't had time to build it with some of these guys. But we've had relationships with some of these guys at previous stops, and that helps. The reality is, as we move forward to this next recruiting class, it will be even better because we'll be in for the long haul.
Have you had much experience recruiting the state of Illinois?
TB: You know, not really. I have a ton of family in the Chicago area, so I'm very familiar with it just from visiting. In terms of recruiting, not as much. I'll still be in charge of the areas I've been in, the Georgias and Floridas of the world and probably a little bit of Michigan. But I'll hang my hat in the Georgia-Florida area, and I'll have part of Illinois.