Willis move the latest twist in SEC soap opera

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, January 22, 2009

What does the Iron Bowl mean? Well, if you don’t know, just take a look at the latest stop on the coaching carousel: Alabama coach Nick Saban hired Auburn linebackers coach James Willis.

That’s right, an Auburn assistant goes to Alabama. That’s a cardinal sin, at least according to Auburn fans, but it would be the same if the positions were reversed.

Now, I realize Willis probably has legitimate reasons for wanting to coach in Tuscaloosa. Maybe he felt he was being disrespected at Auburn. Maybe he didn’t feel comfortable with Gene Chizik, who is 5-19 as a head coach. Maybe Willis didn’t get the kind of salary he thought he deserved.

All of those reasons are valid concerns, and he should be concerned about that. He needs to do what he believes will help him achieve his career goals, but if he ever wanted to coach at Auburn again, he certainly made the wrong move.

Why would you leave Auburn to go to its most hated rival? That’s a question only he can answer, but it’s obvious that he didn’t mind leaving Auburn behind. There is no going back for him.

Now, I’m not saying that Willis is a bad coach because I don’t believe that. He is one of the better linebacker position coaches in the conference. People like former Auburn coach Pay Dye believe Willis has a lot of potential as a coach, and that’s probably why Saban went after Willis.

This might actually be one of Saban’s best steals in his tenure at Alabama. Not only does it put his staff in good position especially on defense, it also rubs it in the face of cross-state rival Auburn.

This was certainly a curve that no one saw coming, but no one expected Saban to be looking for a linebackers coach. It was a little unexpected for Lance Thompson to leave for rival Tennessee. To Saban’s credit, he went after the guy he wanted, and he got him after the position was vacant for only a week.

I have no idea whether these coaching changes will work next season, but the rivalries in the SEC have just gotten very interesting. There have been at least seven assistants that will be at a different SEC school next season than they were at last year.

That just makes for more drama at the next big thing, SEC Media Days.