After a year apart, Tommy Tuberville and James Willis are reuniting.
The former Auburn head coach and assistant are back together — this time on the plains of West Texas.
Tuberville named Willis defensive coordinator at Texas Tech on Thursday thus ending his one-year stay at Alabama where the Huntsville native served as linebackers coach. Texas Tech made the long-anticipated hiring official late Thursday evening.
“Coach Willis will be a great addition to our staff in that he is a great recruiter and he knows the direction we need to take our defense,” Tuberville said in a news release. “Having spent the last year at Alabama, he knows what is involved in building a championship caliber defense, and he and his family are thrilled to be part of the Texas Tech family.”
Willis joined the Alabama staff after serving as Tuberville’s linebackers coach for three seasons. His spot with the Tide opened before the 2009 season when former linebackers coach Lance Thompson left Tuscaloosa to join Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.
His one season with the Tide was a success for all involved. Players raved about his expertise and several credited Willis for taking their game to the next level. His biggest challenge was reshuffling the linebackers after Dont’a Hightower’s season-ending knee injury in the fourth game of the season. Decatur’s Rolando McClain, the 2009 Butkus Award winner, thanked Willis by name in a Monday news conference announcing his decision to enter the NFL draft.
Willis, also former Northern Alabama prep star, was standout linebacker at J.O. Johnson High School before becoming a three-year starter at Auburn from 1990-92. From there, he went on to a seven-year NFL career and one season with the ill-fated XFL.
His coaching career involved three different tenures with Auburn. He rose from student assistant to graduate assistant to linebackers coach with stops at Temple and Rhode Island preceding his final run with the Tigers.
Willis’ departure is just the latest development in a busy offseason for Alabama assistants and support staffers.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was wooed by Georgia, his alma mater, for the same position. Multiple published reports link graduate assistant Mike Groh to the quarterbacks coaching job at Louisville under new coach Charlie Strong. Intern Sedrick Irvin took the running backs coaching job at Memphis before the BCS National Championship game in a move officially announced Thursday.