New Auburn coach Gene Chizik was closing in on filling his first staff with the Tigers, but now he'll have a little more work to do as in a shocking development Alabama announced the hiring of linebacker coach James Willis on Wednesday.
"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."
Willis coached three seasons at Auburn after moving back to his alma mater following a stint coaching at Rhode Island for two years and a brief stay at Temple. His first coaching experience came in 2001 when he joined Tommy Tuberville's Auburn staff as a student assistant. Following two seasons in that role he moved up to a graduate assistant for one season before moving to a full-time job at URI.
As a player Willis was one of the top linebackers in Auburn history. A three-year starter under Pat Dye at Auburn (1990-92), Willis recording 344 career tackles before moving to the NFL following his junior season. He was voted first team All-SEC in 1992, named SEC Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in 1990, and voted to Auburn's All-Decade team for the 1990s. Willis played seven seasons in the NFL and the XFL and was a three-year starter for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Considered a strong recruiter, Willis covered the lower half of Alabama for Auburn including the talent-rich Mobile area.