Tennessee football nears hire of Penn State's Tim Banks as defensive coordinator | Report

Blake Toppmeyer
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee football's quest to hire a defensive coordinator is finally nearing a conclusion.

The Vols are finalizing a deal to hire Penn State assistant Tim Banks, according to a report by Yahoo Sports, citing sources.

Banks has spent the past five seasons as Penn State's safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. He's second-in-command of Penn State's defense under coordinator Brent Pry.

Banks previously was the defensive coordinator at Illinois and the co-DC at Cincinnati, where he worked under Butch Jones.

MORE:Tim Banks: 5 things to know about reported Tennessee defensive coordinator

Banks also worked for Jones as Central Michigan's defensive coordinator from 2007-09, before working two more seasons under him at Cincinnati. Jones was Tennessee's coach from 2013-17. He and Banks first worked on staff together at Division II Ferris State in 1997.

Banks, a 49-year-old Detroit native, played cornerback at Central Michigan.

Penn State ranked in the top four of the Big Ten in scoring defense three straight years from 2017-19 before sliding to sixth in 2020.

The Nittany Lions' pass defense had varying degrees of success during Banks' five years coaching the safeties. Penn State ranked second in the Big Ten in pass defense in 2018 and 2020, but ranked outside the top 10 in the 14-team conference in 2016 and 2019.

Banks has a solid track record as a recruiter, as 247Sports credits him with being the primary recruiter of eight four-star prospects who either signed with Penn State or are currently committed. He's been especially valuable recruiting his home state of Michigan.

Defensive coordinator is the most important hire first-year coach Josh Heupel will make, because Heupel will call Tennessee's plays on offense.

Heupel, hired Jan. 27, has completed his offensive staff by hiring five assistants, four of whom worked for him while he was Central Florida's coach. But defensive line coach Rodney Garner had been Heupel's only reported defensive hire.

Heupel's search for a defensive coordinator lasted nearly three weeks and included the pursuit of Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington, who decided to remain with the Buckeyes.

Heupel opted to not turn to Kevin Steele as an internal option. Tennessee hired Steele as a defensive assistant coach on Jan. 12, less than a week before coach Jeremy Pruitt was fired amid a university investigation into recruiting malfeasance alleged to have occurred under his watch.

Steele, a UT alumnus and former Vols assistant, served as acting head coach from Pruitt's firing to Heupel's hiring. Tennessee has not announced whether it will retain Steele for the 2021 season. Steele is a veteran with defensive coordinator stops at Clemson, Alabama, LSU and, most recently, Auburn.

Banks becomes the second Black defensive coordinator in Tennessee's program history, following Derrick Ansley, who was UT's defensive coordinator in 2019-20. Tennessee had not had a Black coordinator on either side of the ball until Larry Scott served as offensive coordinator in 2017.

Banks' assistant coaching stops include Bowling Green, Memphis and Maryland. He has never coached in the SEC.

Some of Banks' top coaching success came while he was on Jones' staffs. Central Michigan led the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense in 2009, when the Chippewas won the MAC for the second time during Jones' tenure. When Cincinnati won the Big East in 2011, the Bearcats ranked third in scoring defense.

Illinois ranked among the Big Ten's worst defenses during Banks' years on staff, but that didn't stop Penn State coach James Franklin from scooping him up. Banks and Franklin had worked a few years together as assistants at Maryland.

As a player, Banks was a two-time All-MAC selection, and he was co-captain of Central Michigan's 1994 squad that won the MAC Championship.

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.