Saban Takes Willis From Auburn Staff
"I'm extremely pleased and happy to have James Willis join our staff," said Alabama Coach Nick Saban. "We tried to go out and hire the best possible coaches when this process started and I'm confident we've done that. James has everything you would want in terms of finding an outstanding coach and an outstanding recruiter with a lot of enthusiasm and intensity. He's played in the SEC and the NFL, and grew up and coached in the state of Alabama so he will be able to contribute in many areas and make a positive impact as we continue to build a championship program here at Alabama. We're glad to have the Willis family here with us at The University of Alabama."
Saban also announced the hiring of Sal Sunseri from the Carolina Panthers. The additions will replace Kevin Steele, who went to Clemson, and Lance Thompson, who went to Tennessee, following Bama's 2008 season. The Crimson Tide was 12-2 last year.
Willis spent the last three years as the linebackers coach at Auburn. The Tigers ranked No. 7 nationally in scoring defense in 2006 and followed that up with a No. 6 ranking in 2007 and a No. 14 ranking in scoring defense last season. Auburn appeared in two bowls during his tenure – the 2007 AT&T Cotton Bowl and the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Tigers defeated Nebraska 17-14 in the Cotton Bowl and defeated Clemson 23-20 in overtime in the Chick-fil-A. Willis also coached a pair of Freshman All-America players at linebacker at Auburn in Tray Blackmon (2006) and Spencer Pybus (2008).
"I'm excited about the opportunity to come and work with Coach Saban at The University of Alabama," said Willis. "He is one of the best defensive coaches in the game and this is a chance to gain some great experience and learn from the best. You don't get many chances like that in the coaching business. When you combine that opportunity with the history and tradition at Alabama, it was a decision that was best for me personally as well as professionally. I know my wife and the kids are as excited as I am to join Coach Saban's staff."
Prior to his stint at Auburn, Willis coached the linebackers at Temple (2005) and Rhode Island (2004-05). He coached Rhode Island linebacker Teddy Gibbons to team MVP and All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors in 2004. In 2003, Willis was a defensive graduate assistant at Auburn after working as a student assistant the previous two years at Auburn.
Willis spent seven seasons in the NFL and one season in the XFL. He began his professional career with the Green Bay Packers (2003-04) before making the move to Philadelphia (1995-98) where he was a three-year starter for the Eagles. His final NFL season was in 1999 with the Seattle Seahawks and his playing career concluded in 2001 with the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL.
As a collegiate player, Willis was a three-year starter at Auburn (1990-92). He recorded 344 career tackles and was a member of the 1990 Peach Bowl team. Willis was a first team All-SEC selection in 1992 and was the SEC Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in 1990. A fifth round draft pick by Green Bay following his junior season, Willis returned to earn his degree in Adult Education from Auburn.
Willis was born in Huntsville and played high school football at J.O. Johnson High School where he was a Parade All-American as a linebacker. He and his wife, Shalane are the parents of daughter Jade and sons Jalen and Jordan James.
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