Tennessee's Tim Banks choosing to wait before providing defensive specifics

Tennessee Athletics photo by Caleb Jones / New Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks speaks to reporters earlier this week on a Zoom call. Banks spent the past five seasons as Penn State's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach.

Tennessee has its defensive staff under new head football coach Josh Heupel, so what's on the agenda now?

The better question actually may be what isn't on the agenda, as the Volunteers are rapidly approaching their March 23 start to spring practice. Tennessee already has set its Orange & White spring game for April 24.

"Anytime you are trying to build something, you've got to know what parts you have," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "Right now, we are evaluating everything these guys did last season. We've been fortunate enough to be able to get around these guys to see them work a little bit in the weight room and some different movement activities on the field.

"We're just gathering as much information as we can to make sure when it's time for the lights to come on that we can put these guys in the best possible position to be successful."

When the lights turned off on Tennessee's 2020 season, the Vols were a 3-7 program that lost seven of their final eight games, with the lone triumph transpiring against a Vanderbilt team that probably shouldn't have been competing due to COVID-related roster limitations. The dreary December for the Vols was followed by the January jolt of Jeremy Pruitt's termination along with defensive assistants Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer for multiple NCAA Level I and Level II rules violations.

Heupel opted to move on from that mess by not retaining any of Pruitt's assistants, and he chose Banks to guide his inaugural defense. Banks has spent the past five seasons as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Penn State, and he is the only member of Heupel's defensive staff without previous coaching experience in the Southeastern Conference.

"I believe that our philosophies pair together extremely well," Heupel said. "He's a guy who's had a coordinator title during the last 14 years of his coaching career. You look at the last five years of what he's been a part of at Penn State and their ability to create negative plays, and it's going to give us the ability to be multiple in what we do.

"We want to be aggressive in nature, and he will be a tremendous teacher. I think he will be a perfect fit for what we're doing here in Knoxville."

In addition to overseeing the defense, Banks also will be assisting secondary coach Willie Martinez. There is nothing unfamiliar with those two, with Martinez having been secondary coach of the 1994 Central Michigan Chippewas when Banks was a senior cornerback and a co-captain of the Mid-American Conference champions.

Banks believes the players must be evaluated this spring before he decides whether to move forward with a 4-3 or 3-4 front for the Sept. 4 opener against Bowling Green, but he's already certain about the decision he has made. He agreed to a three-year contract that will pay him $1.3 million this season with $100,000 bumps each of the next two years.

"Just like with any other organization, it always starts at the top," Banks said. "Obviously, the success Coach Heupel has had at UCF and as an offensive coordinator I think speaks for itself. I've had a chance to talk to some guys who have a relationship with him, and everything I heard was about obviously being a great coach but also a great man, and the great man was something that intrigued me.

"When you start to talk about Tennessee and the success they've had – a lot of programs talk about what they want to do, but the reality of it is that Tennessee has done it. We know there is work to be done to get back to where we want to go, but having a chance to work with great people and having a chance to do it together was just an opportunity I felt I couldn't pass up on."

Odds and ends

Tennessee announced Tuesday that fifth-year senior defensive lineman Matthew Butler, who is using the extra year of eligibility to play in 2021, has been awarded an NCAA postgraduate scholarship... Former Tennessee running back signee Cody Brown has picked Miami over Missouri as his transfer destination... New York Giants coach Joe Judge announced the hirings Tuesday of Pruitt as his senior defensive assistant and Derek Dooley, who coached the Vols from 2010-12, as his tight ends coach.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.