Willis Happy To Be Back Home

New Auburn linebacker coach James Willis talks about the opportunity he has coming back to his alma mater to coach and what makes it a special job for him.

Auburn, Ala.--The move couldn't have happened at a worse time for new Auburn linebacker Coach James Willis. Having just bought a house in Philadelphia with his wife and two children, they were just getting settled in to their new life when he heard that Auburn was looking for a new linebacker coach.

Then again, things couldn't have happened any better for Willis and family either. A former player and graduate assistant coach at Auburn, the move to Temple was one that he said he didn't have to think about at all before making the move back to his alma mater.

"We're both pretty much in shock," Willis said of he and his wife Shalane. "I almost couldn't believe it was true for a while. You almost want to sit back and you don't go into it too much in case it's not really there. I knew once I got here things would catch up and make sense. I'm just glad to be here and ready to get started."

On the job almost immediately following an interview with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, head coach Tommy Tuberville, and the rest of the Auburn staff, Willis said that he's already had a chance to see some familiar faces including one that he made a promise to when he left three years ago.

"I was here for the Penn State game," Willis said of his last time at Auburn. "I just saw a few players that were here while I was here like Marquies Gunn and some of those guys. They've gotten so much bigger. It's just amazing to see how much they've grown. It seems like it was just yesterday. I couldn't imagine being back so fast and so soon. I'm just glad it happened.

"That's always something that has been on my mind," Willis added on being back at Auburn. "I can remember the day I left I was talking to Chette Williams. I said ‘don't worry, I'll be back one day. I don't know when and I don't know how, but one day I'll be back.' Thank God it worked out this way."

In his new job at Auburn Willis will take over recruiting in South Alabama, much of the same territory that was handled by the man he calls his mentor, Coach Joe Whitt. Willis will also recruit prep schools in Virginia for the Tigers as well as high school players in the area. He'll also be doing some junior college recruiting as well. Despite this being his first time recruiting in the rough and tumble SEC Willis said he doesn't think he'll have any problem doing a good job because his product is top of the line.

"It's easy because first of all it sells itself," Willis said of Auburn. "Growing up it was the loyalty and the pride. It's funny when I went on my visits and I do the same thing in recruiting, you get that feeling when you come to some place that you actually know where home is. Those are things you don't really have to sell. Auburn to me is not really a hard sell.

"When you come here and see the place, because to me you can have the biggest facilities in the world and the best field, the best stadium, but to me it's all about the people. If the people are the right kind of people that you want to be around and are people you respect and trust, then everything else takes care of itself. That's one thing that is special about this place is the people."

The people doesn't just include fans and former teammates and Auburn players, it includes the current coaching staff. Not familiar with Tuberville, only Whitt, when he came back to school to finish his degree in 2001, Willis said that he was welcomed with open arms and that made this decision all the easier when push came to shove.

"When I was here, that's one thing about this staff, they are so close-knit," Willis said. "It's such a family atmosphere. I don't care what profession you are in, you never want to go in to work having to look over your back. You don't want to go to work having to worry about the other person and what they're doing. It's just like home. Everybody around here treats everybody the same. It's total respect, total trust. I want to keep it that way and that's something I want to be a part of because I think that's very special."


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