"We really thought (James) Willis was going to be retained," Cotton Sr. says. "Like I said all along, the kids build a relationship with coaching staffs and that means a lot to them. He really likes Auburn as a school, but he also had relationships built with those coaches and they're not there anymore. James Willis we thought was going to be retained.
"He thought he was going to be retained when he was up here with us last week. We thought that would allow for Chizik to meet with Ray and start building a relationship. I called him up this morning and he said he was kind of shocked and surprised. At this point Ray said he's going to de-commit and take his services elsewhere."
This is the latest in a rough season for Cotton and really every one of the Auburn commitments. Starting with Tony Franklin's release as offensive coordiator, Tommy Tuberville's exit as head coach, and then the staff not being retained, Cotton Sr. says it was just too much for his son at the moment.
"He's had a couple of shockers this year," Cotton Sr. says. "He committed early, back in April. First it was Tony Franklin and then everything else. People have to understand, I told him to be selfish about the process because he's got to be. It's the biggest decision he'll make in his life.
"I have been giving him whatever guidance he's needed, but first Tony Franklin was let go then Tuberville was let go or resigned. Now James Willis thought he was going to be retained and he was let go. He's going to de-commit from Auburn. For me to say Auburn is not going to be in the mix, I can't say that because he hasn't said that. He said he is going to de-commit from Auburn."
Now back on the market for a school, Cotton Sr. says his son will look at several schools with several more beginning to get into the picture in recent days and weeks.
"Ole Miss is up tonight," Cotton Sr. says. "Southern Miss was up last week. He's definitely going to take trips to Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Southern Miss. Tennessee and Florida are in the mix as well. Tennessee just got into the mix the last few days."