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Chris Willis will no longer be the head football coach at the University of North Alabama after six seasons at the helm. UNA athletics director Dr. Josh Looney made the announcement on Sunday.

UNA associate head coach and offensive coordinator Ryan Held will serve as the interim head coach for the final three games of the season.

Willis became the UNA head coach on Dec. 22, 2016, after spending 15 seasons as an assistant coach at the school. As the program’s head coach he compiled a 20-34 record and his team is 1-7 this season. As an assistant, he served under Mark Hudspeth, Terry Bowden and Bobby Wallace and helped the Lions to 12 consecutive trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs and seven conference championships. He was present for the program’s four-year transition to Division I. This season, the Lions, who compete in FCS, gained full membership to Division I.

“On behalf of my family, I want to express my sincere appreciation for the opportunity of a lifetime to serve as the head coach at the University of North Alabama,” Willis said in a UNA media relations’ release. “Over the two decades, as assistant coach, defensive coordinator and head coach, I have built some unbelievable relationships and memories for a lifetime. To our players, both past and present, I’m forever indebted to you for what you have given me. To all the coaches I’ve worked with at UNA since 2002, thank you for your hard work, dedication and friendship. I am so appreciative of the hard work our current staff and student-athletes have put into this season. Even though I won’t be there when you finish the season, I will forever be your biggest fan and rooting for you. Fans, alumni and friends who have supported me behind the scenes, thank you for your loyalty. Our family bleeds purple and wishes the Lion family nothing but the best.”

Looney praised Willis for his time at the school.

“Coach Willis led North Alabama football with high character and integrity during the most unique time in our program’s proud history,” Looney said in the release. “We are incredibly grateful for the positive impact Chris had made on campus, in the community and with thousands of student-athletes during his 21 seasons on the football staff. Chris and his family are tremendous people and we appreciate their dedication to UNA greatly.”

Looney said he will immediately begin a national search for a new head coach.   

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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