James Willis is a Texas Tech Red Raider
January 19, 2010
By Adam Coleman – Daily Toreador
(James Willis played linebacker for the Seahawks in 1999, concluding a 7-year NFL career. On January 13, 2010, Willis agreed to join head coach Tommy Tuberville to serve as the new defensive coordinator for the Texas Tech Red Raiders football team.)
New Texas Tech defensive coordinator James Willis still is waiting on the national championship ring he won at Alabama this season as a linebackers and associate head coach for the Crimson Tide. But once he gets it, he won’t revel in something he considers a thing of past.
“That’s one thing that it’s great to have,” Willis said. “But I’ll put it on the shelf, because the one thing about it, you really got to have a short memory.
“Just keep competing week in and week out, preparing week in and week out and taking one day at a time, game at a time.”
As far as Willis is concerned, he’s ready to start building on a Tech defense already equipped with a few standout players.
As the latest of new additions to Tech coach Tommy Tuberville’s staff, Willis is entering his first stint as a defensive coordinator.
He’s spent the last few seasons coaching in the SEC, known for voracious defenses. Prior to his term at Alabama, Willis spent the 2006-2008 seasons at Auburn coaching linebackers under Tuberville, the same school the new coordinator he was a three-year starter and all-conference pick.
He also has coaching credits at Temple and Rhode Island, and probably most noteworthy, experience as a player in the NFL. Willis played in the NFL for seven seasons and the XFL for one.
But now he has an opportunity to build his own defense, which Willis said already boasts some impressive attributes. Pointing out he’ll specifically work with linebackers, Willis will have players such as Brian Duncan, Sam Fehoko and Bront Bird to work with.
“I turned the film on and I watched them play against Texas and some other schools,” he said. “They compete now. They get after you. They’re hard-nosed. They’re blue-collar. And that’s the team we’ll be. We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to fly around. We’re going to get to the ball.”
Much of what Willis sees on film with this defense probably had to do with former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, who was not retained in Tuberville’s staff changes.
And knowing the relationship between McNeill and his players was a close one, Willis said he understands it may take time to build that same type of bond.
More changes seem to be in order, too. As far as the scheme is concerned, Tuberville already said he wants Tech to use the 3-4 as another facet of the Red Raiders’ defense. Willis is assembling his staff on defense, which could facilitate that process.
But while he’s coached at a few other schools, it seems like Willis’ time at Alabama has prepared him for this step.
Willis said one of the most important things he can take away from Alabama coach Nick Saban is the blueprint to winning a national championship. Willis said he hopes to bring that to Tech.
It’s also a reason Tuberville said Willis is a great hire.
“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,” he said in a press 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 said he knows what he will be up against this season with Big 12 Conference teams — a conference he believes is known for its top-notch offenses.
He said that’s all the more reason to continue implementing an aggressive attitude in the Tech defense.
“Offensively, this conference is known for throwing the ball,” Willis said. “We got a chance last year at Alabama to play against a few offenses that did the same types of things. You turn on the film and what you see is a lot of points being scored out here. You see defenses really trying to get after teams and slow them down some.
“We’ll do the same thing. We’re going to be aggressive. That’s what we do and that’s going to be our motto.”