BARBOURVILLE - Union College Director of Athletics Tim Curry announced the hiring of Zak Willis as Union College’s new head football coach on Thursday, April 18. Willis is the 11th person to hold the position of head coach in the history of the Union College football program.
“I’m very grateful and humble to be here,” said Willis. “After going through 20 years of college football, coaching at the small college level on up to the SEC and Big Ten, I think this is the ideal place for me to be. When I came up here and visited, met the people, I was extremely impressed with the quality of people here at Union.”
This is the third head coaching post for Willis, who previous manned the programs at Mid-South Conference East rival Pikeville and NCAA Division II Newberry (S.C.). Willis owns a career record of 55-37.
Willis has also worked on coaching staffs at South Carolina, Michigan State and Miami (Ohio).
“We are excited to have Zak join our athletic staff and take over our football program,” said Curry. “He has proven to be successful on and off the field throughout his career, and we look forward to watching his teams play here at Union.”
Willis is the 11th head coach in program history, dating back to 1905. However, he is the eighth head coach of the program when it was reinstated in 1984.
Starting over and building a program is nothing new for Willis. He was Pikeville’s first-ever head football coach, and he led the Bears to a 16-12 mark during his tenure. When he arrived at Newberry, the Wolves were coming off a 1-10 record and in the midst of an 18-conference game losing streak. Willis posted a 39-25 overall mark at Newberry, leading it to its first conference title ever and to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2006.
“I like these kinds of situations. I’ve never been a head coach where I didn’t have to build a program in some way,” said Willis. “This is what I do. It’s in my comfort zone, and I think the environment here is very conducive to having a winning football program.”
In preparing for the season ahead, Willis said he will need to practice patience in order to make the best decisions for the program to move forward.
“I don’t believe in the atomic bomb approach where you blow everything up and put it back together. What I want to here is nurture. You’re dealing with human beings,” he said. “I think it comes down to building chemistry, and that takes time.
“The first order of the day for me is patience,” Willis continued, “taking my time and go through this with a fine-tooth comb and make sure we are making the changes we need to make and not make changes just for the sake of making changes.”
Willis is married (Sara) and has three children: two sons – Zakary (13) and Baxley (20 months) and a daughter – Reagan (5).
The Bulldogs posted a 3-8 overall record last season, finishing fifth in the MSC East with a 2-4 league mark. Union had one All-MSC East first team member and five on the second team.
Union will begin the Willis era on Aug. 28 on the road at NCAA foe Murray State.