Hired by former coach Tommy Tuberville to coach linebackers beginning in 2006, Willis played linebacker for the Tigers from 1990-92 where he earned All-SEC honors before heading for the NFL.
Other football support staff members also being retained include strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall, director of football operations Jimmy Perry, director of NFL relations Phillip Lolley and team chaplain Chette Williams. Perry and Lolley have been on the road recruiting football players for the Tigers on an interim basis this month along with Joe Whitt Sr., a former AU on the field coach for the past 25 years who has been doing fundraising for Tigers Unlimited.
Willis is shown during the 2006 season, his first one as a full-time staff member for the Tigers.
Former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville brought Willis back to Auburn as a student assistant coach in 2001-2002 and Willis served as a graduate assistant coach in 2003 before spending 2004-2005 at Rhode Island before a short stint at Temple prior to being hired by Auburn as a full-time coach for the 2006 season. Chizik was Auburn's defensive coordinator under Tuberville for the 2002-2004 seasons before leaving for Texas and later for Iowa State.
"James is a tremendous coach and an outstanding recruiter," said Chizik, who hasn't said yet what position Willis will coach on his staff.
"I had the opportunity to work with him while I was defensive coordinator at Auburn and it was apparent to me then that James was going to be very successful at this level," Chizik added. "He is a high-energy coach that relates well with the student-athletes."
Chizik met with all of the on the field members of Tuberville's staff just prior to meeting the Auburn team for the first time and informed Willis and the other coaches they needed to look for other jobs. Paul Rhoads was hired a week later as head coach at Iowa State, taking over the position that Chizik had vacated to come to Auburn. Hugh Nall, who didn't meet with Chizik, had already taken another job outside of coaching.
Reports from Louisiana listed Willis as a candidate for a position on the LSU staff.
Yoxall and Lolley were hired by Tuberville during his first season at Auburn, 1999, and Perry was hired in 2000. Yoxall came to Auburn from UCLA, where he was strength and conditioning coach. Both Perry and Lolley were long-time successful high school coaches prior to coming to AU. Lolley coached outside linebackers and defensive backs before moving to his role working with pro scouts and pro football teams.
Willis played seven seasons of pro football in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks. He retired after one season with the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL and returned to Auburn to finish his degree and get a start on his coaching career.