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 (2008).
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 (1999).
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 senior.
He and his wife, Shalane, have three children, daughter, Jade, and sons Jalen and Jordan James.