UPDATE (Jan. 4): The Arkansas football program has officially announced the hire of Marcus Woodson. The Razorbacks have given him the title of co-defensive coordinator and have not revealed which specific position he’ll coach.
It is believed to be the first time Arkansas has had co-coordinators since 2000, when Bobby Allen and John Thompson split defensive coordinator duties. The Razorbacks also had co-defensive coordinators in 1998 and 1999, when Allen shared the role with Keith Burns.
Sam Pittman moved fast to fill the vacancy on the Arkansas football coaching staff, according to 247Sports’ Brandon Marcello.
Just a day after news broke that linebackers coach Michael Scherer was leaving to become the defensive coordinator on Barry Odom’s staff at UNLV, Marcus Woodson emerged as his replacement.
Woodson is expected to coach a position within the secondary, which is what he coached at Florida State the last three years. He was also the defensive passing game coordinator for the Seminoles.
New defensive coordinator Travis Williams, a linebackers coach by trade, will fill the spot created by Scherer’s departure. Former defensive coordinator Barry Odom coached safeties, while Dominique Bowman coached the cornerbacks.
The hire of Woodson once again puts the Razorbacks at 10 on-field assistants on Pittman’s staff. In addition to hiring him and Williams, Pittman also hired Morgan Turner from Stanford to replace Dowell Loggains as the tight ends coach.
Here is a closer look at the newest assistant coach for Arkansas football:
Connection with Travis Williams and the SEC
For five of the past seven seasons, Marcus Woodson has coached under Mike Norvell — first at Memphis from 2016-17 and then at Florida State from 2020-22.
Sandwiched between those two stops, though, was a two-year stint at Auburn. He was the Tigers’ defensive backs coach from 2018-19, adding the recruiting coordinator title in the second of those seasons.
Not only did Woodson work under head coach Gus Malzahn, but he was on the same staff as new Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams, who was Auburn’s linebackers coach in 2018 and added co-defensive coordinator duties in 2019.
While that was his only experience coaching in the conference, Woodson grew up in SEC country — Moss Point, Miss. — and played safety at Ole Miss, where he was a two-year letterman before injuries ended his playing career.
Other coaching stops for Woodson include Millsaps College (2005-08), Charleston Southern (2009-13) and Fresno State (2014-15).
Recruiting Ability of Marcus Woodson
Something that almost certainly attracted Sam Pittman to Marcus Woodson is his reputation on the recruiting trail.
According to 247Sports, Woodson has been the primary recruiter for 12 four-star or better commits during his five seasons at Auburn and Florida State, plus the secondary recruiter for three others.
That number includes a pair of commitments in the 2024 class. He was the primary recruiter for both five-star running back Kameron Davis from Georgia and four-star safety Jordan Pride from Florida. It’s still very early in that cycle, but he is second in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings for 2024.
All but one of those 15 players hail from the SEC footprint, with five from Florida and three from Georgia. That is significant because the Razorbacks have recently made a concerted effort to recruit the Peach State and Pittman said he’d like to get into the Sunshine State more with the hire of Travis Williams. Woodson will likely be able to aid in those efforts.
Woodson was also the lead recruiter for Travis Hunter, the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2022 who was committed to Florida State before a surprise flip to Jackson State and its former head coach Deion Sanders.
It’s worth noting that Florida State landed a commitment from Virginia transfer Fentrell Cypress II — one of the top cornerbacks available in the transfer portal — on Sunday, but Woodson was not his primary contact. That is likely because the Seminoles were aware of him moving on.
NFL Draft Picks Under Marcus Woodson
Several of the defensive backs Marcus Woodson coached over his time at Auburn and Florida State have gone on to get drafted — seven by Best of Arkansas Sports’ count, and possibly eight after this upcoming draft. Over that same span, the Razorbacks have had just just two selected in the NFL Draft and both were seventh-rounders: Kamren Curl and Montaric Brown.
Woodson has a first-rounder on his resume in the form of former Auburn standout Noah Igbinoghene, who actually converted from wide receiver to cornerback under his tutelage. He was the 30th overall pick in 2020.
He also recruited former Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary, who eventually became a first-team All-SEC performer in 2021 and a second-round pick in 2022.
Jamel Dean (third round, 2019) and Daniel Thomas (fifth round, 2020) were also drafted during Woodson’s time at Auburn, while Jamien Sherwood was a fifth-round pick a year after he left, but played quite a bit while he was there.
Only two Florida State defensive backs have been drafted since he joined the Seminoles and both were players he inherited and coached his first season: Asante Samuel Jr. (second round) and Hamsah Nasirildeen (sixth round).
However, he could have another in April because two-time first-team All-ACC safety Jammie Robinson has declared for the NFL Draft and is projected to be selected in the middle rounds.
Not included in that count are a couple of guys Woodson coached at Auburn who eventually earned second-team All-SEC honors and went undrafted: Smoke Monday and Jeremiah Dinson.
Statistically speaking, Florida State had one of the best pass defenses in the country this season. On the way to a 10-3 record, the Seminoles held their opponents to just 165.4 passing yards per game (4th in FBS), 6.2 yards per attempt (t-12th), 56.4% completion percentage (18th) and 120.6 passer rating (22nd).
Several stories from Florida State sites, though, have mentioned that those numbers are deceiving because of the quarterbacks the Seminoles faced and that the secondary had an up-and-down season. Pro Football Focus seems to back that up, as it gives Florida State a 79.2 coverage grade, which ranks 50th nationally.
However, it’s worth noting that is significantly better than where the Seminoles were when Woodson arrived. They ranked 80th in the FBS with a 70.7 grade in 2019.
Their traditional passing defense numbers also increased over the last three years:
- 2020: 257.1 yards, 8.1 yards/attempt, 147.4 rating
- 2021: 233.2 yards, 7.0 yards/attempt, 131.1 rating
- 2022: 165.4 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt, 120.6 rating
Those statistics also improved year-over-year during his two-year stints at Fresno State and Auburn. That didn’t happen during his stop at Memphis, but those Tigers were one of the top ball-hawking teams in the country with 16 interceptions in both of his seasons as their defensive backs coach.
Interceptions have been a staple of Woodson’s units, as his teams have picked off 104 passes over the past nine seasons — an average of 11.6 per season. Over that same span, the Razorbacks had only 87 interceptions, and that includes the past three seasons when they’ve had a resurgence in that category (35 interceptions in 36 games).
Sam Pittman is likely hopeful that Woodson can have a similar impact in Fayetteville, as Arkansas gave up 294.7 passing yards per game this season. Not only did that rank dead last in the FBS, but it was also the most the Razorbacks have ever allowed, surpassing the 285.8 they gave up in 2012.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…