Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks isn't the most popular coach on Tim Beckman's staff among fans, but he's preparing for his third season with the Illini.
CHAMPAIGN — Fans speculated if Tim Banks would return. Media did, too.
Message board rants regarding the Illinois defensive coordinator were common last fall.
Particularly after another opposing offense picked apart the Illini defense.
A repeat of what transpired in 2013 for the Illinois defense, however, will likely only set off more rumors and whispers about the direction that particular side of the ball is going.
For Banks — the man in charge of the Illinois defense — frustrations mounted last year.
More so with preparing his defense to try to stop the likes of Ameer Abdullah, Connor Cook, Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Trevor Siemian, among others, during Big Ten play, and then failing to do so.
All the extra noise regarding Banks and if he would return for a third season at Illinois didn’t rile the 42-year-old up.
“I don’t think about that stuff,” he said. “I don’t know what’s said until you actually ask me because I don’t read that stuff. I knew I had a job to do. That’s what I concentrated on. I knew after the season that I needed to recruit. Everybody is evaluated at the end of the year. I’m no different. I got my evaluation, and then after that I continued to recruit and get better.”
Banks said the evaluation Illinois coach Tim Beckman had with him went in-depth about strengths the defense had during the 2013 season and areas they needed to hone in on for the 2014 season.
Banks said he didn’t feel worried about his job status going into those meetings.
“It was no different than it was after our first year here, and to be honest it was no different than anywhere else I’ve been,” Banks said. “That’s just kind of how it is. I’ve been extremely blessed in this profession. I’ve been doing this 18 years. I’ve had great success at most of the places I’ve been at. My opinion and my thought process has always been the same. When God has a different mission for me, then that’s what it’ll be, whether it’s by force or by my own actions, and that’s kind of how I look at it.”
Banks said he and Beckman didn’t talk about Banks not returning after last season ended.
“It was just business as usual,” Banks said. “I’m not trying to give you coachspeak. I’m being honest. We didn’t talk about it in that regard. It was more, ‘Hey, here’s where we’ve got to get better. These are the things we need to do.’ And that was it.”
Movies help Banks unwind
The first two seasons in Champaign haven’t brought about the wins or results Banks wanted.
He has endured losing seasons before.
But the 6-18 record the Illini accumulated the last two seasons is the worst two-year record Banks has been associated with since he started coaching Division I football as a running backs coach in 1999 at Bowling Green.
“Everybody says the kids are important, but unfortunately, because of some of the outside distractions, it doesn’t always allow coaches to stay focused on what’s truly important,” Banks said. “I’ve tried to make sure that I’m doing that and make sure I know why I got in coaching in the first place. That was to help develop young men to the best of my ability and using football as a vehicle to teach them life lessons. How I’m able to handle adversity will speak volumes to them as they get older because in life, there’s going to be some ups and downs, and how we handle it is really going to be important.”
Movies provide a welcome respite from the day-to-day grind of coaching for Banks and his wife, Robin.
“I love movies,” Banks said with a smile. “If I have some spare time, which I don’t get very often, my wife and I will go to the movies. It’s corny, but we’ll come out and grade it with what we liked and why. That’s what we do. I love movies, particularly action, but I don’t think you can go wrong with a good comedy. People don’t think I like to laugh, but I actually enjoy a good laugh when I can get one.”
The defensive struggles Banks has witnessed firsthand at Illinois don’t make him want to stay locked up inside his house when he’s not at Memorial Stadium or on the road recruiting.
The Internet trolls who throw his name around in a mean-spirited way don’t discourage Banks from living his life.
“I see guys in the community all the time, and I may not know them, but for the most part everyone is real friendly and very supportive,” Banks said. “There’s small pockets of guys that aren’t happy with the results, and the thing I would tell them is neither am I. I’m used to winning. I had great success as a player and have had some great success as a coach. I’d like to continue to win.”
Cameras will follow nearly every movement either Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey or Reilly O’Toole will make this fall during games.
Thus is the life of a Big Ten quarterback.
But before one of the three emerges to become the starting quarterback at Illinois, all three are getting used to cameras following them this spring.
The first two episodes of “The Illini QB” are available online and chronicle the competition between the trio this spring.
Frank Lenti Jr., a former holder at Illinois who now works with the university’s Illini Productions as assistant director for video services, is the point man on the project.
But Lenti said Beckman was the one who came up with the idea.
The two episodes that have circulated online already feature interviews with Lunt, Bailey, O’Toole and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
They also show footage of the quarterbacks at practice, in the weight room and in the meeting room.
The most recent episode featured Beckman breaking down how Illinois would approach its first scrimmage of the spring.
The first episode, which was published on March 17, runs a little more than seven minutes, and the second, which was published on April 1, is about 10 minutes.
“Normally with stuff like this you always assume that coaches don’t really want to take part in anything like that,” Lenti said. “He had talked to us about doing something like that to get people engaged and give them a look inside the program. It’s not too often that you have three kids from the state of Illinois competing for such a high-profile position. It’s something we wanted to take advantage of.”
More to come
The episodes sprinkle in practice footage and interviews while Rob Naughton supplies the narration.
If Naughton’s voice is familiar to Illinois fans, it’s because the Minnesota native did the narration for previous Illini Production videos like the “TNT” series involving the men’s basketball team and the Illinois football team’s Camp Rantoul webisodes that tracked the Illini’s stay there in 2011.
“He’s been more than happy to work with us,” Lenti said.
Lenti said the plan is to unveil four episodes about the quarterbacks this spring, with the final one spotlighting the spring game on April 12.
“We’re going to see what we can get into the third one,” Lenti said. “We’re hopefully going to have all the guys mic’d up at the same time.”
Lenti and Weston Carter, another member of the Illini Productions staff, are the two cameramen filming, while Kaitlin Dixon and Kevin Southworth are other Illini Productions staff members involved in the finished product.
While Beckman may have played a role in the concept, he’s not telling Lenti what to keep and what to edit out.
“That’s been a good part,” Lenti said, “knowing that he trusts me enough that I know what to put out there and what not to put out there for opponents.”
The webisodes are popular viewing for the Illini. Even among the subjects themselves.
“I’ve watched the first two,” Lunt said. “It’s kind of awkward (at times), but I like them. They’re funny, and I know my parents love them. All the other guys think they’re pretty funny.”