Alabama assistant coach Jeff Banks holds a dual title: tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Bobby Williams and Joe Pannunzio both held those titles before Banks arrived this season. But when Nick Saban went to hire him, it was his special teams work that set him apart.
“My first was philosophical, a decision that when we went to 10 coaches, I wanted to try to find a really, really good special teams coach,” Saban said. “A lot of times in college you get guys that are coaches who coach special teams and maybe they don’t sort of put the emphasis on it. I always had a tremendous amount of respect for the really good job that Texas A&M did on special teams when he was there. That was the No. 1 factor. The fact that he’s a good recruiter and he’s got a lot of connections in Texas probably was a bonus.”
Banks was a two-time All-Pac 10 punter during his career at Washington State. He’s been special teams coordinator at all four of his previous coaching stops. Texas A&M led the nation in punt blocks and were second in punt returns in 2017. Opponents haven’t returned a punt against Alabama in the first three games of the season this fall.
His recruiting work did mean he had at least one local connection when he came to Alabama. He had previously recruited tight end Irv Smith Jr. when he was at Texas A&M. Smith committed during summer 2015 before backing off just before his signing day in 2016.
“It was tough love at first when I decommitted,” Smith said. “He got here and he was very excited. We were back together and he would be coaching me. It’s awesome, honestly.”
It’s a small sample size early in the season, but Alabama’s special teams have shown some flashes. On just three total kickoff returns, Alabama has a 77-yard return for a touchdown, a 27-yard return and a 74-yard return. Freshman Jaylen Waddle is also averaging 15.9 yards per punt return.
“I think we’ve made some changes in that area that have been beneficial to our team,” Saban said. “It’s been a work in progress with our players to make those changes, but we’ve been pretty productive so far in our return game. Obviously we want to do the best job we can to continue to develop our specialists and develop consistency in that area. But it’s been a real positive for our program.”