Feb. 6, 2006
Former Auburn standout James Willis has been named to the Auburn football staff as linebackers coach, head coach Tommy Tuberville announced Monday. A three-year starter at linebacker for the Tigers from 1990-92, Willis comes to Auburn from Temple, where he served as linebackers coach since December 2005.
Willis was a linebackers coach at the University of Rhode Island from 2003-05 before taking a similar position at Temple last December. The Huntsville, Ala., native began his coaching career in 2001 at Auburn as a student assistant before serving as a defensive graduate assistant in 2003 under Tuberville. As a graduate assistant in 2003, Willis worked primarily with linebackers.
"We're very pleased to have James returning to the Auburn Family," Tuberville said. "He is an outstanding coach with a tremendous amount of knowledge and passion for the game of football. Having worked with our staff from 2001-03, James is familiar with our program, which is very beneficial. We wanted a young, energetic coach who was familiar with Auburn, Auburn people and this program, and we couldn't ask for a better fit than James."
At Rhode Island, Willis was responsible for coaching the linebackers and also served as its pro liaison, referee contact, was responsible for rules interpretation and monitored player academic progress. In 2004, Teddy Gibbons earned team MVP and All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors under Willis' tutelage after making 114 total tackles.
"I'm extremely excited to be returning to Auburn and joining Coach Tuberville's staff," said Willis. "I can't express how much it means to be able to coach at my alma mater."
A native of Huntsville, Ala., Willis was a three-year starter (1990-92) at Auburn under legendary coach Pat Dye. He earned SEC Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in 1990 after posting a team-best 123 tackles. Willis led the Tigers in tackles again as a junior in 1992 with 126 en route to earning All-SEC first team honors. Voted to Auburn's All-Decade team for the 1990s, Willis had a career-high 21 tackles against Alabama in 1990. Willis finished his three-year career at Auburn with 344 tackles.
Willis entered the coaching ranks after playing professionally for eight seasons. Selected in the fifth round of the 1993 NFL Draft by Green Bay, he played in 25 games in two seasons with the Packers before signing with Philadelphia in 1995. Willis was a three-year starter (1996-98) for the Eagles, who made playoff appearances during his first two seasons. He was second on the team in tackles in 1996 (77) and was tied for the team lead in tackles in 1997 (82). The middle linebacker registered 105 stops in 1998, second-most on the team.
Willis played one season for the Seattle Seahawks in 1999 before concluding his professional career with the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL. He was named the team's defensive MVP after making a club-best 70 tackles in 2001.
Willis, 33, completed his bachelor's degree in adult education at Auburn in 2003. He and his wife, Shalane, have two children, daughter, Jade (11) and son, Jalen (5).