Ragin Cajuns defensive coordinator James Willis to become a defensive assistant coach with the Saints _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- James Willis, defensive coordinator for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, answers questions from reporters during the team's media day Monday at the university Alumni Center.

LAFAYETTE – James Willis, the Ragin’ Cajuns defensive coordinator for each of the last two seasons, has accepted a position as a defensive assistant and linebackers coach on the New Orleans Saints staff.

Willis, who nearly accepted a similar position with Florida State last offseason, played seven seasons as a linebacker in the NFL before beginning his coaching career. This is his first professional coaching job.

“I’m excited for James and his opportunity,” said coach Mark Hudspeth in a statement released by the school. “Obviously, as a player in the National Football League, he has to be excited to have the opportunity to go back and coach at the highest level. We appreciate the work that James did here at UL and wish him and his family the best in the future.

“You know you have good people on your staff when other universities hire your coaches to be head coaches and the NFL comes calling for your coaches as well.”

In two seasons under Willis, the Cajuns defense allowed 26 and 26.5 points per game. The Cajuns were ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in scoring defense last season, their best finish in Hudspeth’s tenure.

The Cajuns have made numerous changes to the defensive coaching staff in the last calendar year. With Willis out of the picture, the Cajuns will not have a single defensive assistant that was with the team last season.

In total, five defensive assistants have left in the last four months. Willis and Tim Rebowe (head coach, Nicholls State) left for other jobs, Tim Edwards and Matt Wallerstedt were not retained after 2014, and David Saunders resigned in early November.

The staff upheaval starkly contrasts to the first three years of Hudspeth’s tenure, when Willis was the only addition to Hudspeth’s original staff.

This offseason, the Cajuns added Mike Lucas to coach linebackers and Melvin Smith to coach defensive backs. Smith is also listed as co-defensive coordinator on the team’s website. The Cajuns are still looking for a replacement for Edwards as defensive line coach.

The school hopes to fill out its defensive staff quickly, with spring drills roughly three weeks away.