"I'm extremely excited to be returning to Auburn and joining Coach Tuberville's staff," said Willis. "I can't express how much it means to be able to coach at my alma mater."
A coach at Rhode Island the previous two seasons and just recently hired by Temple in December, Willis interviewed for the vacant job on Monday morning and it didn't take long for Tuberville to know he was the man for the position. To Tuberville, Willis had it all.
"I was looking for a guy that had Auburn ties and obviously looking for a linebacker coach after talking with Coach (Will) Muschamp," Tuberville tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "He (Muschamp) wants to coach the secondary, which I'm fine with. James is a natural for us because he's worked with us for a short period of time. He was with us a few years ago and went out on his own and made a name for himself.
"He knows a lot about our schemes and about Coach (Don) Dunn and Coach (Terry) Price. He has those relationships. I let them be in on the hiring of all the guys they work with. He comes very highly recommended by both Terry and Don. I think it's a tremendous advantage for us to have somebody come back with the knowledge of the campus, the Auburn family, has ties here, and understands the university. I think he's going to be a great addition academically and athletically for all of us."
Having a cohesive staff is something that Tuberville has always been big on and it is something that Willis could bring at the linebacker position. Having coached with him from 2001 to 2003, Tuberville said that Willis is somebody that lets the staff get right to work on spring practice and improving for next season because he has already been in the system and knows what to expect.
"He knew Terry and Don and the chemistry with your staff is big on my part," Tuberville says. "You have to know each other. Having two guys come in at one time, you really wanted to have somebody come in that these guys knew with Coach Muschamp coming in and not knowing a lot about him other than we've coached against him. James' familiarity with the coaches and the program and the traditions here was a big advantage for him, but it was a big advantage for us, too. We got somebody who understands what Auburn is about.
"When you lose two guys in a 24-hour period and you're only three weeks and a few days away from spring practice it makes you a little nervous as a head coach knowing you've got a lot of work to do," Tuberville adds. "But, these guys fit in real well. With James it's like he never left. He worked with linebackers when he was here last time. We haven't changed a lot with what we're doing terminology-wise.
"For Will it's a little different. He's going to have to learn what we're doing. I'm going to let him bring some new ideas, but we're going to keep the language and terminology the same."
Will Muschamp is shown working for the Miami Dolphins last season next to head coach Nick Saban (right).
Despite being a full-time coach just three seasons, it's obvious that Willis made a big impression on Auburn's coaching staff during his time on the Plains. A former Tiger player and NFL standout with the Philadelphia Eagles, Willis brings playing experience as well to the table. Tuberville says that all that made Willis the full package they were looking for to round out the staff.
"Here's a guy who played ball here and played well," Tuberville says. "He was a good football player and went on to the NFL and did well. Then he wanted to get back into coaching and he came back and visited with us. He did a real good job for us.
"He's easy to get along with and his work ethic is excellent. He went from here to Rhode Island and then to Temple. I know his family is excited about coming back. Once I talked to him about it and after talking with some other guys, he has some many more advantages for us to make a quicker transition than the other people I've talked to."
After an early morning interview that gave Tuberville and the staff the answers they had been looking for, Willis and the rest of the defensive staff got right to work on spring practice with a Tuesday afternoon meeting. Tuberville says that while he's got a lot of work to do before spring practice opens Feb. 28, he's confident that Willis will be someone Auburn fans will be proud of for many years to come.
"They hit the ground running today after we decided on James," Tuberville says. "He's just going to stay here. He'll go back home to Philadelphia on Friday. He's got some things he's got to do there with his family and at Temple. He's going to stay through this week and they're going to start on the spring playbook.
"We've got winter workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He'll get all the players in here that he's going to coach because there's a lot of new faces he doesn't know anything about. Heck, I don't know anything about them because they're so young. I like a guy like him that, number one, is really, really excited about being here. Then the type of person he is and his family. I look for him to be here a long time."