Since then he has steered the new-look Boks to nine wins in 13 tests in 2008 and picked up some notable landmark victories along the way.
Not that as he moves into the second spell of his two-year contract he will be dwelling on the past. Ahead of him lies a vital revenge mission for the whole of South Africa when the Springboks take on the British & Irish Lions this summer.
It is 12 years since the Lions were last in South Africa. In 1997, Martin Johnson's men emerged with a 2-1 series victory over the then reigning world champions and de Villiers now has to go head-to-head this summer with the man who masterminded the Lions victory, Ian McGeechan.
While the Tri-Nations series provided moderate success, there were still plenty of sound building blocks put in place over de Villiers' first-year in charge.
There was a first win over All Blacks in Dunedin, and a first triumph on New Zealand soil since 1998. There were record thrashings of Australia in Johannesburg (53-8) and England at Twickenham (42-6) and three successive victories over Grand Slam Wales.
With Dick Muir, who captained Western Province against the 1997 Lions, and Gary Gold working alongside him, de Villiers has assembled a highly skilled coaching team and experimented with moving World Cup winning captain John Smit back to tight head prop.
As he said recently: "We never said it was going to be a perfect world. If you look at the Bible, Joseph started out in the pit and ended up in the palace."
Just how palatial his surroundings will be later in the year will be determined by the outcome of the three Test series against the Lions. If he can end 12 years of pain in the wake of the 2-1 defeat in 1997, then he will become a national hero.
But if McGeechan can mastermind a third Test series win as Lions coach, then de Villiers will need a strong Tri-Nations showing to take into any re-negotiations with SARU for an extension to his contract.
The battle against the Lions begins in Durban on Saturday, 20 June. The clock is well and truly ticking!