Tennessee Flight football fans have long paid special attention to the Head Coach, due to the passion and interest in the sport locally and throughout the Big Orange Nation.
But Mark Beal Banks’ name is probably not coming to the fore, even among longtime supporters and followers, in part because he coached in the 1920s. Although he had moderate success, his name quickly faded into the background, even in the old days, in part because of the man who followed him – the highly successful Robert Neyland.
However, coach Banks can claim a distinction that Neyland cannot: he was the first flight head coach to walk behind the scenes at the stadium later named for his successor.
As The Shopper News continues its look at the 100th anniversary of Neyland Stadium after earlier highlighting the first game played there in late September 1921, a look at Coach Banks shows a man who has had an interesting life.
He has coached distinguished future Americans, was innovative on and off the pitch, and changed vocations as easily as his players changed uniforms.
Born in 1883 in New York City, he was an outstanding football quarterback – as well as a basketball and baseball player – in Syracuse. Immediately after graduation, he became a head coach at Center College in Kentucky.
He would become the head coach of Ohio Wesleyan, Ohio University and Drake in Iowa before joining UT before the 1921 season. He also coached other sports at these colleges, as he would. in Tennessee.
Among those he coached were future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Fred Vinson at the Center, future owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and three-time World Series champion John W. Galbreath at the University of the Ohio, and future U.S. Senator and running mate Estes Kefauver at UT. Banks had also once played in a professional football match against the great Jim Thorpe.
Banks, who apparently went by his middle name of Beal, had come to UT after meeting UT Dean and athletic manager Nathan Dougherty while serving as Army Soldiers at Fort Sheridan in outside Chicago during World War I.
During the 1921 inaugural season of Neyland Stadium, then known as Shields-Watkins Field and which Banks referred to as “splendid ground” in his personal account of the season in the UT yearbook, Flights finished 6-2-1. Attending him was fellow newcomer from Knoxville AW Hobt of Ohio State.
During Banks’ five years at the helm, the Vols would end up finishing an impressive 8-2-0 in 1922, but slipped to 5-4-1 in 1923 and 3-5 in 1924. By 1925, expectations on him were high, and Flights also had a new Army final trainer – Robert Neyland, who would also work with the Army ROTC program in Tennessee.
Banks rebounded to 5-2-1 in 1925 in a season that also included a big win over Georgia, but due to expectations he was sacked at the end of the season, despite his strong verbal pressure for keep the job. . In a situation similar to where Phillip Fulmer replaced an ill Johnny Majors for part of the 1992 season, Dougherty and UT’s sporting council were in awe of how Neyland and another coach helped lead the team in training before the Georgia game while Banks was ill.
Neyland, of course, was going to lead the Flight teams to great heights, but he learned a lot about Banks’ one-wing offense when they worked together on strategy for the 1925 season. Banks had apparently also played a role. a key role in the move from Neyland to Knoxville.
According to some comments from former Banks players after his death in 1970 in Parkersburg, West Virginia, of a heart attack at the age of 86, he was considered a sympathetic man in this profession known for his toughness and his tenacity. But keeping his players disciplined was a problem, also wrote former News Sentinel sports editor Tom Siler in a 1950s Tennessee football history book.
Banks – who had also led the UT basketball and baseball teams to around 0.500 records – went on to become the head football coach at Central High School in Knoxville, a common career development at the time. . He coached Central until 1929 and was known to have developed an arch support for athletic shoes manufactured and distributed throughout the United States.
While in Knoxville, he first lived in Fountain City, but spent most of his years residing in a now razed house on Cumberland Avenue. It was in the block where Jason’s Deli had been for the last few years until it was demolished for an apartment complex under construction.
A few years later, Banks became head coach and athletic director at Hartwick College in New York before getting involved in real estate in Florida at a time when the Sunshine State was starting to grow in population.
He was also honored at UT during the 1956 season long after his departure.
From Big Orange Country to Orange Country, Banks has left his mark in an eventful life.