James Willis, who served as associate head coach and
outside linebackers coach at Alabama in 2009 when the Crimson Tide won the BCS
championship, has been named the defensive coordinator for the Ragin' Cajuns
football team. Head coach Mark Hudspeth
made the announcement on Thursday (Feb. 7).
The hiring is pending approval by the University of
Louisiana System Board of Supervisors.
A nine-year collegiate coaching veteran, Willis has five
years experience working in the SEC and Big 12 conferences.
“After two months of research and interviews, I am
excited to announce James Willis as the new defensive coordinator for the
Ragin' Cajuns football team,” Hudspeth said.
“I was very diligent in the search, taking the time to
contact every reference and a lot of his colleagues in football. Everybody whom I spoke with were both candid
about his experiences and ability and excited about the possibilities of him
working with the Ragin' Cajuns.
“I believe that Coach Willis will bring a renewed sense
of energy and intensity to the defense and set the tone for spring ball. He was highly successful player at both the
collegiate and professional levels and has experience coaching at some of the
top collegiate programs, including with Nick Saban at Alabama.
“I am excited that he will be here in time to help us get
ready for the start of spring football on March 11,” Hudspeth added.
Willis spent the 2006-08 seasons as the linebackers coach
at Auburn under head coach Tommy Tuberville. The Tigers ranked No. 7 nationally
in scoring defense in 2006 and followed with a No. 6 ranking in 2007 and a No.
14 ranking in scoring defense in 2008.
Auburn appeared in two bowls during his tenure, the 2007
AT&T Cotton Bowl and the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Tigers defeated Nebraska 17-14 in the
Cotton Bowl and defeated Clemson 23-20 in overtime in the Chick-fil-A. He also coached a pair of Freshman
All-Americans at linebacker at Auburn in Tray Blackmon (2006) and Spencer Pybus
Willis moved to Alabama in 2009, helping the Tide
complete a perfect 14-0 season by defeating Texas, 37-21 in the BCS
Championship game. He helped guide a
defense that finished second nationally in total defense, working with All-American
linebacker and Butkus Award recipient Rolando McClain.
Willis rejoined Tuberville's staff as defensive
coordinator at Texas Tech in 2010.
A three-year starter at Auburn (1990-92), he recorded 344
career tackles. He was the SEC
Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in 1990 when the Tigers earned a Peach Bowl
bid. He was a first team All-SEC pick as
a junior in 1992.
Willis declared for the NFL Draft following his junior
year and was a fifth round selection (119th overall) by the Green Bay
Packers. He played seven seasons in the
NFL, playing for Green Bay (1993-94), Philadelphia (1995-98) and Seattle
A member of six playoff teams during his NFL career,
Willis played in 93 career games, totaling 221 tackles (129 solo).
Willis finished his career in 2001 as a member of the
Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL, leading the league with 70 tackles and 10
tackles for loss to earn the league's defensive MVP award.
Willis returned to Auburn in 2002 to serve as a student
assistant coach while he completed his undergraduate degree. After earning his bachelor's degree in 2003,
he served as a defensive graduate assistant in 2003.
Willis received his first full-time coaching position in
2004 when he became linebackers coach at Rhode Island. He took over as linebackers coach at Temple
in 2005 before making his way back to Auburn in 2006.
A native of Huntsville, Ala., Willis played high school
football at J.O. Johnson High School, earning Parade All-America honors as a
He and his wife, Shalane, have three children, daughter,
Jade, and sons Jalen and Jordan James.