LAFAYETTE – James Willis, who served as defensive coordinator for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns football team during the past two seasons, will leave the staff to pursue a coaching position with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, head coach Mark Hudspeth announced on Wednesday.
Willis, whose defenses at Louisiana were ranked among the top units in the Sun Belt Conference, will join the Saints as a defensive assistant/linebackers coach.
During his two-year tenure at Louisiana, Willis’ defenses were ranked among the top units in the Sun Belt Conference with his 2014 squad leading the league, and ranking 35th among FBS schools in rushing defense (142.2 yards per game). Four players on defense – defensive tackle Christian Ringo (first team), nose tackle Justin Hamilton (first team), defensive back Corey Trim (second team) and linebacker Dominique Tovell (honorable mention) earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors after the 2014 season with Ringo being named the LSWA Defensive Player of the Year.
A first-team All-SEC selection during his playing days at Auburn, Willis spent seven years in the NFL, playing for the Green Bay Packers (1993-94), Philadelphia Eagles (1995-98) and Seattle Seahawks (1999). Over the course of his NFL playing career, Willis was a part of six playoff teams, including a pair of appearances in the NFC Championship game.
“I’m excited for James and his opportunity,” Hudspeth said. “Obviously, as a player in the National Football League, he has to be excited to have the opportunity to go back and coach at the highest level. We appreciate the work that James did here at UL and wish him and his family the best in the future.
“You know you have good people on your staff when other universities hire your coaches to be head coaches and the NFL comes calling for your coaches as well.”
In his first season with the Cajuns, Willis’ defense finished second overall in rushing defense (204.5 yards per game) and third in total defense (393.5).
Linebacker Justin Anderson, who earned first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors, finished the season second in the league in tackles with 132 while Justin Hamilton (second-team) and Dominique Tovell (honorable mention) earned league notice.
Willis was defensive coordinator at Texas Tech in 2010 and coached linebackers at Alabama during the Crimson Tide’s national championship season in 2009. From 2006-08, Willis coached linebackers at Auburn, where the Tigers were ranked among the national leaders in scoring defense each season and earned a pair of bowl victories.
As a collegiate player, Willis was a three-year starter at Auburn (1990-92). He recorded 344 career tackles and was a member of the 1990 Peach Bowl team. Willis was a first team All-SEC selection in 1992 and was the SEC Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in 1990. A fifth round draft pick by Green Bay following his junior season, Willis returned to earn his degree in Adult Education from Auburn.