Shane: Saban takes AU’s best recruiter

By Shane from Centerpoint
I remember the moment vividly (it occurred during a recent appearance on the Paul Finebaum Radio network) – former Auburn head coach Pat Dye was in the middle of a sermon, using his airtime as a bully pulpit to rant about something Alabama was supposedly doing to harm his program up in Memphis, Tennessee (the worst place Dye could possibly associate with Alabama). Pat leaned into the microphone, using a low growl designed to emphasized the serious nature of his message and said that they (Alabama?) are screwing with our “family”. Then he mumbled something about how nobody screws with the Auburn “family”.

Do you folks out there think that Nick Saban’s hiring away Auburn’s best recruiter and linebacker coach, James Willis, constitutes “messing with the Auburn family”?

Quite frankly, I think that the glove’s been removed and the slap has been administered. Actually, Coach Willis was Auburn’s last man standing on the highly contested south Alabama front, a premium zone that is crucial to successful recruiting for both universities.

Adding Coach Willis to the Tide staff only enhances Alabama’s newly found dominance in the Mobile, Alabama area. Losing Willis could possibly spell doom for Gene Chizik and his Tigers, because Saban and Willis will combine to lock down that territory in the future. Additionally, Willis knows the region’s high school coaches far too well for any new Auburn assistant to actually stand a fighting chance.

I predict that Coach Willis – backed by the best closer in the game – will have tremendous success in his efforts to land the top-rated players from that area.

James became a good linebacker coach while under Tommy Tuberville. I have no doubt that he will be even better after he spends time with Nick Saban. He apparently feels the same way Will Muschamp and Gene Chizik (Auburn’s current coach) felt when considering their chances to land a head-coaching job – the idea that Mac Brown and now Nick Saban provide a better chance to reach the top than anything Auburn could ever offer.

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I’m sure the part of James’ departure that is hard to accept for the “family” is the fact that he was an “Auburn man”. Yes, he played for the Tigers and it’s true that Willis was given his first major coaching job by Auburn. However, after hearing the details of his treatment by Chizik and certain individuals who pay his salary, I believe Coach Willis made the right move.

Auburn fans must face the fact that coach James Willis is now the linebacker and associate head coach at the University of Alabama. By the way, the Crimson Empire seems to be thrilled to have a man of his caliber join the Tide staff.

Alabama’s linebackers are in good hands. Willis has great knowledge of the game from years spent learning from the best. Think about his background: he played for coach Dye, spent years in the NFL, and was tutored by defensive “guru” Tommy Tuberville. Next season he will be in charge of the Tide’s linebackers, guided by one of the best defensive specialists in the business.

I bet James can’t wipe the smile from his face. The situation could not have worked out any better for him. He is truly blessed. Think about it – he was stuck at the bottom of the totem pole down at Auburn. Suddenly, Alabama loses its linebacker coach, who also happened to recruit south Alabama, and the wheels begin to turn.

People often say that fate controls their direction in life. The idea that Coach Willis perfectly fit Coach Saban’s needs (as a position coach and recruiter) really put the handwriting on the wall. Coupled with the fact that Saban’s good friend Tommy Tuberville gave Willis the highest recommendation, the move makes both Nick and James appear brilliant.

Meanwhile, Auburn – who had been enjoying an upswing in perception lately, after being a national joke for hiring Gene Chizik in the first place – is right back where they started. Pat Dye must be furious. Many Tiger fans have been claiming that Willis committed (football) treason by jumping to the enemy. I wonder if Dye feels the same, considering he spent his first nine years coaching under “Bear” Bryant at Alabama, and then ended up declaring war on the Tide when he arrived down on the Plains as their new head coach.

A wise man once told me that angry words will always come back to haunt the man who speaks them. In the case of Patrick Fain Dye, the bad karma came quickly. His stern warning to all who would hear – that nobody better screw with his “family” – evidently didn’t mean anything to Nick Saban. Truthfully, why would it? Nothing else has so far.

Allowing Coach Willis to be lured away by Saban is a horrendous blunder by somebody involved in the Auburn management system. Heads should roll for letting it happen.

On the flip side, Coach Saban’s hiring of Willis is definitely another notch in his belt. By doing so, he continues to advance the mission that he started the day he arrived on campus – working 365 days a year toward dominating his in-state rival. I guess his latest move is just another step in the “process”.