Illinois football coach Tim Beckman originally offered the defensive coordinator job to former Illini DC Vic Koenning. Koenning did a masterful job improving the Illini defense the past two years, and he was a logical choice to continue that role. But he turned down the opportunity to stay.
Beckman then tried to hire North Carolina State DC Jon Tenuta, and he was announced before declining the job to follow his son, an upcoming freshman baseball player at NC State. From those two experiences, Illini fans became concerned the UI defense would suffer from the turmoil.
But out of the shadows jumped Tim Banks. He gained respect as a defensive coordinator at Central Michigan and most recently Cincinnati. The Bearcats led the nation in tackles for loss, were second in sacks and ranked sixth nationally in run defense last season. He may have been unknown by Illini fans but not by the coaching profession.
And certainly not by Beckman. The two worked together at Bowling Green, a major factor in his decision to make the move to Illinois.
"Family loyalty means everything to me. You've heard Coach Beckman say how important family is to him. I didn't take this opportunity lightly. I've been doing this for over 15 years. I found out that who you work for is extremely important. They have to hold the same values you hold.
"When I was presented with this opportunity, I spent some time praying. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing. I wanted to make sure my family would be happy and would be all-in as we walked onto this journey.
"After praying and talking to Coach Beckman about his vision for this program, at that point it became real to me. There was no other opportunity I would really want to be part of, to be a part of Illini Nation.
"I'm extremely blessed and extremely humbled to have a chance to work with these young men. I'm extremely excited to be with (the assistant coaches) Coach Beckman has put together. Not only do they bring great youth, but they bring great experience. That's sometimes hard to find."
It can be difficult for a new coordinator to join a program where the other assistants on his side of the ball were hired before him. If they are not compatible, if the others aren't willing to submit to the new man's leadership, chaos results. But Banks feels extremely comfortable with his new staff.
"Mike Ward (linebackers) and I worked together a couple years at Bowling Green. I've spent some time with Coach (Steve) Clinkscale; we've worked some camps together.
"I've kind of followed Keith Gilmore. Keith was at Central Michigan where I went to school, and we followed him at Cincinnati. This is the first chance we have to actually work together. I'm excited about him because I've seen his work. He's done a tremendous job with our defensive linemen. I expect that to continue."
Current Illini athletic director Mike Thomas was at Cincinnati while Banks worked there. He has great respect for the UI head man, another reason for the move.
"Mike Thomas is a great leader. I was there with him for two years, watching the way he carried himself. I believe that many people can talk it, but not many people can live it. I had a chance to watch him work. When he says his door is open to the student-athletes, it's not just lip service. Having a chance to be around Mike Thomas again was an added bonus."
The more he learns about the University of Illinois, he becomes more convinced he made the correct career decision.
"We have really good kids here. As I continue to learn about our university, I understand what it means to be a part of this Illini Nation. From academics to the great history we have, plus the football, really it's a no-brainer. I'm excited to get started this spring coaching these young men. It's gonna be a good ride."
Beckman worked primarily on the defensive side of the ball before becoming a head coach, so Banks knows the head man has his back when needed.
"I know what kind of man Coach Beckman is, and his defensive expertise. I'm excited to continue to grow under his leadership as we move forward. It's gonna be great. You guys are gonna be extremely proud of the guys we put on the field. It'll be something Illini Nation will be extremely happy about."
His style of defense should be fun to watch. Illini fans will notice similarities to Koenning's defenses.
"It's very similar. A lot of times, the kids will dictate who plays and who doesn't play in terms of scheme. They were a lot of 4-2-5 last year, but Coach Beckman and our staff have had experience with 4-3 concepts. We'll mix and match, but definitely there will be some 4-2-5 principles."
The former staff designated the strongside linebacker (SAM) as a hybrid linebacker/nickel back. The new regime will call that person the "Star." Banks says the criteria and physical skills required for the two positions are similar but not exactly the same.
"In this day and age, you have to be athletic enough to be able to cover some guys, but that guy has to be physical enough to hold up in the run game. We want to make sure we incorporate that guy into our schemes.
"But will also play with some bigger guys too, some true SAM body types. We'll mix it up some. We think we have enough body types here to do both. Some will play more passing responsibilities, and some will play more in the run game."
All defensive coordinators understand the biggest defensive responsibility game by game.
"In this day and age, we want to have the ability to affect the quarterback. The quarterback controls the game most of the time. The more you can make them uncomfortable, the better it is for us."
By necessity, defenses have become extremely complex to counter offensive complexity. There will be no way of pigeonholing Banks's style into a simple classification.
"You've got to be as creative as those guys are. If they knew exactly where you're coming from, depending on what front you are playing, it makes it a lot easier for those guys to pick it apart. We're trying to make sure we do a good job of showing one thing and giving them another.
"It's not complicated from that standpoint. You've got to make sure you've got some variety. You want to be multiple in everything you are doing. That's what we plan on doing."
Banks will also help coach the secondary.
"I'll be responsible for the whole defense, and I'll train the safeties and corners along with coach Clinkscale. We'll work hand-in-hand. It's almost like having two secondary coaches, and really a third when you add Coach Beck."
Banks is also known as a quality recruiter. He talks about his recruiting areas.
"I'll be recruiting Georgia and Florida. And I'll have a part of Illinois. I've been down South most of my career. Probably the last couple of years, I've been back in the Midwest more, some Michigan and Ohio. But I plan to get back to my roots, which is down South.
"My Illinois recruiting will be mostly in the surrounding areas. We coordinators don't have time to get out much, so this way I'll have an area I can handle. I will be in Central Florida, Orlando and the Lakeland area. And the Atlanta area in Georgia."
The Koenning defense will be hard to match, let alone top. Does Banks feel pressure following a popular and successful coach?
"Not really because I understand every year is a different year. You can't look at last year and decide what should be this year. Every year is different factors, different things that go into building a team. Our one goal is to win the championship, and obviously we have some guys returning that have shown they can play some football.
"The scheme and terminology will be different, so there is a learning curve for everyone. Our goal is to make sure we have the right guys in position so they can execute at the best of their ability.
"The pressure to win is always there regardless if you're a championship team or a team that hasn't won. Because your goal year after year is to hold a finger up and say you're number one. If you're not doing that, you need to go back to the drawing board."
Like his head coach, Banks is ambitious. They have set high goals for the Illinois football team.
"Our goal around here is to win championships. Our kids did some really good things last year, and we're looking forward to building on that. We're gonna do everything we can to keep this thing going. But the reality of it is, we want to win championships. That's the standard around here. We want to win and play for Big 10 championships."