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Illinois D-coordinator Tim Banks knows what real losses are

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks (middle/orange hat) looks his staff during spring game Memorial Stadium. (AP Photo/Daryl Quitalig viTriple Play New

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks (middle/orange hat) looks to his staff during the spring game at Memorial Stadium. (AP Photo/Daryl Quitalig via Triple Play New Media)

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Updated: December 30, 2013 12:09PM

He doesn’t want your sympathy. Nor is he asking for anyone’s ­understanding and acceptance.

Tim Banks, Illinois’ second-year defensive coordinator, merely is trying to do his job.

Amid constant criticism of his struggling defense and, by now, routine speculation that the 41-year-old coach will be fired after the season, Banks stands in front of his young, often overmatched players like a shield — if you will, like a father figure. To coach these players whom Banks calls his kids also means to protect and nurture them.

There are ugly things being said about the Illini.

‘‘Let me worry about that,’’ he tells them.

Banks’ wife, Robin, feels a strong sentimental attachment to the players, too.

‘‘She loves our kids here — our athletes, my players, she sees them as [our] kids,’’ Banks said. “And with everybody else’s kids on the staff, she has that motherly vibe.’’

This Thanksgiving, you’re well within your rights to look toward ­Illinois’ finale against Northwestern — the culmination of another losing season — with disappointment. You might hope to see Illinois revamp its coaching staff. That’s all fine.

But on this most family-oriented of holidays, when many of us look to our little ones and marvel at our good fortune, you’re going to hear a family story.

Their names were Jordan Gabrielle and Taylor Janelle, two sweet little girls whose parents loved them very much. They were delivered prematurely on March  4, 2011, first Jordan and then her ­sister, with brother Jalen Sherrod to follow. Triplets: a blessing so amazing that the entire football family at Cincinnati, where Banks was defensive coordinator, had been giddy with anticipation.

Tragically, Jalen didn’t survive his birth. Robin Banks was only 22 weeks along, already having been hospitalized because of a cervical problem and put on strict bed rest for an extended period, when she developed an infection that put her in grave danger. Her husband had been going to work every day and sleeping by her side in the hospital every night, the pregnancy seeming to be progressing safely, but now it was chaos. It was terrifying. It was devastating.

After about two hours, Jordan and Taylor were gone, too.

‘‘People say you weren’t with them very long,” Banks said, ‘‘but for us, those couple of hours were like months. Years. It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever been around.”

A heartbroken Banks had football to dive back into. Before long, his dramatically improved defense was leading the Bearcats to a share of the Big East title. Meanwhile, it was harder for Robin, who often was alone in a house where a finished babies’ room sat empty.

‘‘It was just difficult for me to live [in Cincinnati] anymore,’’ she said. ‘‘Going somewhere else was, for me, the best thing because I didn’t have to look at the things that reminded me that our children weren’t there — the places we were planning to take them, the places we’d shopped for their belongings.”

The Bankses, college sweethearts who met at Central Michigan and were married on a Wednesday — the day before Thanksgiving — in 1994, had spent years trying to start a family. Meeting the mounting costs of fertility treatments had become a serious challenge.

To this day, though, Tim and Robin Banks hope to be blessed with children of their own. Their decision to leave Cincinnati had nothing to do with football; for the record, Banks’ coordinator job there was completely safe. But soon after receiving a call from Tim Beckman, Banks and his wife learned of something else Illinois could offer them.

‘‘God gave us a sign,” Robin explained. ‘‘If we came to the University of Illinois, we would have free fertility insurance.’’

It has been a tough go for Banks as the coordinator in Champaign.

‘‘It’s difficult,’’ Robin said. ‘‘He’s struggling through it. He’s battling through it.’’

He’d like a chance to prove himself worthy, as he has in every one of his previous jobs as a coach. But if you think Tim Banks is hung up this Thanksgiving on whatever Illini Nation is saying about him, you simply couldn’t be more wrong.

‘‘Not a day goes by when we don’t miss our kids and think of what could’ve been,’’ he said.

A pause.

‘‘And what should’ve been.’’


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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