Former Texas A&M assistant Jeff Banks making a big difference at Alabama

Crimson Tide special teams and tight ends off to a good start in 2018

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Normally when Nick Saban hires an assistant coach, recruiting has to be a major part of his resume.

With special-teams coach Jeff Banks, it was a "bonus."

"I wanted to find a really, really good special teams coach," the University of Alabama coach said. "A lot of times in college you get guys who coach special teams who maybe don't 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."

But Banks was also a good recruiter and had a lot of established connections through the state of Texas, which is considered fertile recruiting territory. "It didn't hurt" that Alabama had already been recruiting Jaylen Waddle out of Bellaire, who is already turning heads as the Crimson Tide's punt returner.

Banks, one of six new assistant head coaches Saban hired during the offseason, had also recruited junior tight end Irv Smith Jr., who had been a Texas A&M commitment. He's now his tight ends coach.

“It was early in my recruiting process my junior year," Smith said. "Coach Banks was at A&M and he was recruiting me very hard and he and I had a real close relationship. But I ended up taking a visit to Alabama and fell in love with it. It kind of spoke for itself. But it’s awesome having Coach Banks here now because we had such a close relationship.”

“He’s a great coach, a great person. He builds relationships over the year. He’s a good guy.”

Both Smith and Alabama's special teams are off to big starts this season. The tight end was targeted more than any other Crimson Tide receiver last week and has nine receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.

With Waddle, Alabama is averaging 15.86 yards per punt return and that doesn't include the touchdown nullified by a penalty behind the play.

It leads the nation in kick returns with a 59.3-yard average. Josh Jacobs' 77-yard kick return for a touchdown against Louisville was the Crimson Tide's first since Kenyan Drake's 95-yard return against Clemson in the national championship game at the end of the 2015 season.

"He does a really good job with our special teams," Saban said during the SEC's weekly coaches' teleconference on Wednesday morning. "I think we’ve made some changes in that area that have been beneficial to our team. 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."