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Bohls: Horns assistant Jeff Banks has found a niche in special teams, his home in Texas

Texas assistant head football coach Jeff Banks barks directions to players during an open practice at Royal-Memorial Stadium last week. Banks said he's eager to start recruiting the state of Texas for the Longhorns; at Alabama, he helped land several key Texas recruits for the Crimson Tide.
  • Jeff Banks grew up in California, punted at Washington State and has been an assistant coach at A&M.
  • Banks decided early on to focus on special teams and has ridden that to high-profile jobs.
  • "He's the premier special teams coordinator in the country," Steve Sarkisian said of Banks.

Jeff Banks is home.

Not actually.

He grew up in Upland, Calif. He went to school at Washington State, where he was twice an all-conference punter in the Pac-12 and once played in the Rose Bowl. He also worked as an assistant coach at Idaho State for four years, ending in 2003.

But like most smart people, Banks got to the state of Texas as fast as he could. Did we say he’s an exceptionally bright guy?

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He is and he made a home away from home, first at UTEP for nine seasons and then at Texas A&M for another five years, interrupted only by a very brief time at Virginia. Even his children — daughter, Sydnei, and sons Gage and Tanner — stayed in College Station with their mother after Banks relocated.

“That was a huge part of it, just the ability to come in and be an every-day part of their lives as they’re going into high school,” Banks said. “That was the other major reason (to come to Texas).”

The last three years? Well, he spent those at the main cathedral of college football, learning at the right hand of Nick Saban and helping Alabama win in a big way.

And now he’s at Texas, one of the traditional if not recent powerhouses of the sport. It is his task as well as that of head coach Steve Sarkisian and staff to restore the Longhorns to national glory that has proven to be so elusive over the last decade and to do it quickly.

Sarkisian certainly believes in his chances to pull that off with more than a helping hand from Banks, who has made his widespread reputation as one of the premier recruiters and special teams coordinators in the game.

“I've always looked at this job or admired it in terms of the ability to acquire talent and coach Texas players, and these (new Longhorn) coaches do as good a job as anybody in the country” Banks said. “So, I just looked at it as, what a sleeping giant. What a time to be part of it.”

In addition, Banks is considered a solid tight ends coach at a position of strength and one that is a point of emphasis for Sarkisian. Alabama ran a two-tight end offense as much as 40% of the time, Banks said, and Texas may as well. He loves the depth he has at the position.

“I think Cade Brewer is a phenomenal leader. He’s very very good,” Banks said. “ He's just a competitor. He’s a winner, definitely the kind of guy you'd like to coach. Very football smart. Jared Wiley is probably the most improved player so far since we've been here. I felt like Jared's really turned the corner, both from a maturity standpoint and just a physicality standpoint. So with those two, they definitely lead our room.”

Texas tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Banks gives directions to junior tight end Jared Wiley during a recent practice at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Wiley is one of several promising tight ends that Banks will coach, including senior Cade Brewer, sophomore Brayden Liebrock and freshman five-star athlete Ja'Tavion Sanders.

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One wonders if becoming a head coach is on Banks’ bucket list. He’s got assistant head coach on his UT door, but he’s already 46. He successfully oversaw the Aggies’ special teams. And he served as A&M’s interim coach for the Belk Bowl in 2017 as a fill-in for the fired Kevin Sumlin and oversaw a 499-yard, four-touchdown game from quarterback Nick Starkel before falling 55-52 to Wake Forest. 

But he doesn’t seem like a guy in a hurry to run his own show. If he were, he’d push hard to become a coordinator because there aren’t many special teams assistants who are elevated directly to head coaches. 

That said, maybe someday he’ll morph into the next Frank Beamer as a special teams savant. Until then, he’s done fine working for coaches like Saban and now Sarkisian, a couple of coaches who value special teams more than the run-of-the-mill head coach.

“Special teams are going to dictate the outcome of the game at some point,” said Banks, who credits the special teams input from other UT assistants like Blake Gideon and Jeff Choate. “And whether it's average drive start or a game-breaking type play like a return for a touchdown or a blocked punt, it can totally change the outcome of the game.”

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And don’t ever forget Banks’ hand in recruiting. He’s relentless in that area.

“Jeff’s roots in recruiting are really here in the great state of Texas,” Sarkisian said of Banks last week. “But he’s also, in my opinion, the premier special teams coordinator in the country. So we get a fantastic coach there. We also get a fantastic recruiter with ties to the state.”

What’s not to like?

We did say he’s bright, didn’t we?

In some respects, Banks is at the forefront of the special teams game. He chose to focus on that phase very early in his career and made it his favorite niche to gain a foothold as one of the rising stars in that world.

Banks is very high on his kick returners, naming Joshua Moore, Xavier Worthy, D’Shawn Jamison, Keilan Robinson and possibly even starting tailback Bijan Robinson. And he’ll use starters on many if not most of the special teams units.

Being a glib, tireless recruiter hasn’t hurt him either. Not surprising for a coach who got his bachelor’s degree in college in communications. Every Longhorn player has mentioned his energy and passion.

“I think he’s the best in the business,” said Texas State head coach Jake Spavital, who worked alongside Banks at A&M. “He’s an unbelievable recruiter, one of the better recruiters out there. And he was getting into a position that a lot of people didn’t want to coach. He’s one of the guys who are pioneers of it all.”

And that separated Banks as one of the top assistants and ultimately proved himself to Sarkisian.

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The timing just felt right.

“It was my third season there (at Alabama), and we wanted to attain our goals to win the national championship,” Banks said. “I think being able to do that really helped me just feel like we kind of got a goal accomplished that we were all striving for.”

Banks had a not inconsiderable impact on the three Crimson Tide teams he was a part of, playing for two national titles and winning one.

In last year's championship season, Alabama’s special teams did not allow a single blocked kick or blocked punt. They ranked ninth nationally in punt return average at a hair under 15 yards, were 25th in kickoff return yards allowed and 30th in punt return average, allowing a bare 4.4 yards.

Oh yeah, he had DeVonta Smith as a punt returner, and the future Heisman winner averaged an eye-popping 21.5 yards per return on his 11 attempts, which included an 84-yard touchdown. That average would have led all college punt returners, but Smith did not meet the minimum number of returns per game to be ranked by the NCAA. He was sort of busy doing other things as well.

And placekicker Will Reichard was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award after not missing a single kick, going a perfect 14-for-14 on field goals and a perfect 84-for-84 on extra-point tries.

That doesn’t even begin to address the major impact he’s had in Alabama's recruiting success in the state of Texas. All Banks did was help lure Lone Star talent like Fort Worth All Saints Episcopal five-star blue-chip offensive lineman Tommy Brockermeyer and his four-star center brother James to Tuscaloosa along with five-star running back Camar Wheaton of Garland Lakeview Centennial and four-star quarterback Jalen Milroe, once a Texas pledge.

Before that, he cut his recruiting teeth at A&M, where he and Spavital once lured wide receiver/kick returner Christian Kirk to College Station, to name one star.

Now he’ll be coaxing blue chippers to Austin instead and hoping he’ll have a lot to sell. Including himself.