The 2004 Auburn Tigers are certainly up there for the best teams in program history. Dominant on both sides of the ball, the Tigers went a perfect 13-0 and ended the season No. 2 in the nation despite not getting a shot at the national championship.
Fifteen years later, with the hire of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams as Auburn’s new RB coach, two of that team’s biggest stars are once again teaming up on The Plains on Gus Malzahn's coaching staff.
No one is more excited for the hire of Cadillac than linebacker coach Travis “T-Will” Williams. T-Will, who led the 2004 Tigers with 80 tackles, is entering his ninth non-consecutive year coaching for the Tigers and has been the linebackers coach since 2016.
“That’s my guy. He’s definitely a great addition to the staff, very humble, like you wouldn’t know he’s Cadillac. Let’s be honest, at Auburn University, when you’re talking football, now this is my opinion, they’re going to talk about Bo, they’re going to talk about Cam, they’re going to talk about Cadillac,” Travis said. “If you don’t know Cadillac Williams in his Auburn University days, you’ve been sleeping under a rock. They’re going to talk about Pat Sullivan, they’re going to talk about them all but Cadillac’s name is going to be in that conversation.”
After going fifth overall in the 2005 NFL draft and enjoying a seven-year pro football career that saw him win 2005 rookie of the year, Cadillac joined the Tigers' staff after stints with Henderson State, West Georgia, IMG Academy and the Birmingham Iron of the now defunct AAF.
“It’s wild. I still can find myself riding around campus some part of the day, working out and I’ll tell Trav and them ‘I can’t believe I’m actually at Auburn coaching.’ I’m telling you man, God has blessed me in so many ways and you know, I’ve had a lot of success, a lot of failures but I’ll tell you, this is one of the best feelings, one of the best accomplishments that I’ve ever done in life. Getting the opportunity to come back to my university that had such an impact on me, to be a running back coach and help young men to give back,” Cadillac said.
Cadillac’s hire has already paid dividends for Auburn as the former star has made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail. Thanks to Cadillac, the Tigers have received commitments from No. 35 ranked player nationally in four-star running back Tank Bigsby as well as the third-ranked running back in the class of 2021 in Armoni Goodwin.
Cadillac will replace former Auburn coach Tim Horton, who spent the last six seasons at the position and is now at Vanderbilt. From day one, the Cadillac hire created major buzz within the program.
“This is what I knew we were getting, even when I was talking to coach Malzahn about it. Cadillac is such a competitor, great competitor. I mean, I competed with him for four years, he’s at running back, I’m at linebacker,” T-Will said. “I just knew he was going to be a hard worker; it was going to be important to him and he loved Auburn and he loves to compete, hates to lose. I already knew it was going to be a home run, a slam dunk.”
The Auburn legend will have a strong stable of talented backs to work with during his first year on The Plains, including sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow, senior Kam Martin, and sophomore Shaun Shivers among others.
In 2004, Cadillac shared a backfield with fellow star Ronnie Brown, now a sideline reporter for the Auburn Sports Network. Cadillac and Brown created one of the best running back duos in college football history and with the depth and talent of this year’s unit, Cadillac isn’t shying away from a possible “running back by committee approach”
“That’ll definitely help in recruiting. Again, I was at IMG with Trey Sanders and Noah Cain and one of the things that those guys, when coach (Kevin) Wright hired me, was like ‘Look, I got two big time backs’ and I honestly feel like God put me there for a reason for me to share my story with those guys and, man, with those guys being 16, 17 years old, those guys bought in about not being selfish, about keeping tread off your tires, about being together, playing together, feeding off each other and competing together,” Cadillac said. “With myself, a guy that has been there and played when it was me, Ronnie Brown, Brandon Jacobs, Tre Smith — we had some really, really top-notch backs so you know, we can sell that to guys that it’s not just going to be one guy and in the new age, guys really understand that and they want that now.
Coaching for his alma-mater has been a dream of Cadillac’s since he retired from the NFL in 2012 and started coaching in 2016. The former running back will get the chance to do just that in 2019, and joining his former teammate in Travis Williams is just icing on the cake.
After not producing a 1,000-yard rusher last year for the first time in nearly a decade, expectations for Cadillac and Auburn’s stable of running backs are high. With the Tigers set to kick off their 2019 season on Saturday against Oregon, even Cadillac himself doesn’t know how he’ll react.
“I don’t know how I’m going to take it. My first coaching game at Auburn. Being on that stage, I just know that I am ecstatic, I am excited and I honestly don’t know if I’m going to get emotional,” he said. “I truly appreciate the Auburn family. They never made me feel like I was just a ball player. You guys know, I’ve had some tough moments — broke my clavicle, broke my ankle — and the way they still embraced me and the way they thought of me it honestly propelled me to want more and to do good for Auburn.”