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Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / New Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel speaks during Wednesday afternoon's introductory news conference in Knoxville.

Let's take the high road here. Let's say that new Tennessee coach Josh Heupel's expected hiring of Penn State co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks after supposedly interviewing as many as five other candidates isn't because that quintet turned Heupel down.

Let's say none of the five that ESPN has reported were interviewed by Heupel — not Kansas City Chiefs linebackers coach Matt House, not Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington, not Tampa Bay defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, not Southern Cal defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, not even Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown — told Heupel whatever he wanted to hear.

So maybe this wasn't a case of UT being rejected. Maybe it was Heupel saying thanks, but no thanks five times to candidates whose defensive philosophies disappointed him.

Nor does Banks have a weak resume. He just didn't appear to be the guy Heupel wanted most. Not that we'll ever know for sure.

After all, it is all but certain that Heupel will tell the media and the Vols Nation that Banks was the only person offered the job, much as new UT athletic director Danny White told those gathered for Heupel's introductory press conference that he was the only coach offered the job, even though a bunch of folks were reportedly considered before him.

Word choice is very important in these situations. Both from UT's perspective and the person being hired. You never want to be known or seen as the second choice. Especially when the Vols have developed a reputation — fair or not — for hiring their third or fourth choices in recent years where the football program is concerned.

So the 49-year-old Banks, employed by the Nittany Lions the past five years, just might be the perfect answer to UT's recent defensive woes. Just don't go spreading the news that Banks was a defensive coach under former Vols head coach Butch Jones at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Any new staff member with old ties to Jones might send the Big Orange fan base over the edge.

But at least Banks hadn't just gotten canned by Penn State in much the way ousted Auburn coach Gus Malzahn now has a new job as the head coach at Central Florida, where Heupel was before UT hired him away from the Sunshine State.

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Penn State photo by Mark Selders / Penn State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Tim Banks is reportedly in the process of being hired as Josh Heupel's defensive coordinator at Tennessee.

Talk about one school's trash becoming another school's treasure.

Barely two months after Auburn paid Malzahn a stunning $21.7 million to make him go away, the Knights are reportedly paying him $2.3 million annually to succeed Heupel. And Malzahn supposedly gets to keep that $21.7 million. All of it. And you wonder why his agent, Jimmy Sexton, is known throughout college athletics as the best in the business when it comes to making multimillionaires of coaches.

But it's also fair to wonder this: Given that UCF's biggest win ever came against a Malzahn-coached Auburn team in the 2018 Peach Bowl at the close of the Knights' undefeated 2017 season, how many UCF fans that day would have been happy to know that three seasons later they'd be making Malzahn their third coach since that season?

The architect of that 2017 slice of perfection, Scott Frost, couldn't say no to his alma mater, Nebraska, after that run. Then Heupel, who moved from offensive coordinator to head coach when Frost left, bolted for Tennessee last month.

So now Malzahn takes the UCF job hoping to prove that he's the guy who has three wins over Alabama coach Nick Saban — including a 2017 Iron Bowl win less than two months before the Tide won it all — rather than the guy outcoached by Frost.

Said Malzahn on Monday: "(UCF) is one of the top 20 coaching jobs in all of college football. When this opportunity came, I was ready. I really believe they're getting the best Gus Malzahn of any time in my career, for the fact that I had eight weeks to reflect, refresh, evaluate, and to be better the next time you do it."

The question for the Big Orange Nation today is when UT will again be regarded as one of the Top 20 coaching jobs in all of college football.

Or could it be that by hiring a co-defensive coordinator away from traditional power Penn State, the Vols are still considered as such?

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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