Arkansas football co-defensive coordinator Marcus Woodson took the road less traveled when it comes to climbing the coaching ladder in college football.
Especially for a former player.
Most former players, especially in the Southeastern Conference, are usually graduate assistants at the school where they played, then get promoted through the program to a quality control role and then go from there to a position group, then become a coordinator.
Some ultimately may end up being head coaches. Some may max out as a coordinator or even just coaching a position group, almost like Sam Pittman seemed to be content to be a career offensive line coach until Hunter Yurachek took a chance on him in December 2019.
Woodson, now the co-defensive coordinator for the Razorbacks, played in the secondary for Ole Miss when Eli Manning was the quarterback for the Rebels. His playing career in David Cutcliffe’s program was cut short because of injuries, so he got into coaching quicker than he probably would’ve liked, although it possibly could have been a blessing in disguise.
Woodson’s Journey Begins
After graduating, there was a year and a half gap between Marcus Woodson leaving school and getting his first gig. He was a criminal justice major and had been working at a law firm to make ends meet and was in the process of becoming a correctional officer before he got the call.
He got the job as the defensive backs coach at Millsaps College that paid him $6,000 annually. The tiny Division III school in Jackson, Miss., was where he built his resume for four years, coaching four all-conference players. His last year there, the Majors went 11-1.
“I started out small, but I always had aspirations of moving up, especially coaching in the SEC,” Woodson recently told Bo Mattingly on Episode 213 of the Hog Pod. “The guy (David Sonders) who called me was on the staff at Ole Miss when I played.
“He had Mike DuBose on his staff, who was previously the head coach at Alabama. They both told me I could go a long way in this profession. Thank god I took a chance. Coaching became my passion. I wanted to pass on to the next generation what my coaches had passed on to me.”
Division III football is apples to oranges compared to modern-day SEC. Student-athletes have to pay their own way (NIL? More like LOL). Scholarships? Ha.
Not only did Woodson recruit football players to Millsaps, he was also charged with recruiting the student body to see if anyone wanted to play, kind of like a high school coach would do, combing the hallways to get numbers up.
“Those kids (D3) are paying to play football,” Woodson said. “Nowadays these kids are getting NIL and getting every aspect of their life taken care of. We took a 13-hour bus trip to Sewanee once up in Tennessee and at night we fed the players hot pockets from a Walmart across the street, and they embraced it. I just have an appreciation for all this stuff because I’ve seen the other side of it.”
From there, he took a step up to Charleston Southern, where he toiled for five years as the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator. Like at Millsaps, his last year there, they won 10 games and finished nationally ranked.
In 2014, he finally made it to the FBS, taking over at Fresno State. After two seasons with the Bulldogs, he landed in Memphis, coaching the Tigers for two seasons.
Auburn came calling in 2018, and he coached defensive backs there for two seasons with current Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams, doing an impressive enough job for Florida State and Mike Norvell to come calling for his services for their secondary in 2020.
Landing with Arkansas Football
Marcus Woodson reunited with Travis Williams at Arkansas in time for the 2023 season, where he will make $700,000 annually. That’s about 117 times higher than what he was making nearly two decades ago. All the hard work and sacrifice has certainly paid off.
“I was single for seven years and then when my wife and I got together, her sticking with it was what made it for me,” Woodson told Mattingly. “If she hadn’t committed to letting me live my dream I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.
“Lord willing, I continue to progress upward. Keep being blessed and make this situation here at Arkansas the best that I can. Hopefully I leave here better than I found it. Coach Cutcliffe always told us that (when I was at Ole Miss).”
Woodson has faced Arkansas both as a player and a coach, but acknowledged that it was usually a situation where you come into town, you play the game and you leave.
“I never understood how special this place was until I got to experience Fayetteville, Bentonville and Rogers,” Woodson shared with Mattingly. “The people here are great. My wife and kids love it here.”
Expectations for Arkansas’ 2023 Secondary
It is no secret that the secondary was the weak link for Arkansas football a year ago. The Razorbacks surrendered passing yards at a rate that ranked last in the FBS, at 294.7 yards per game.
Marcus Woodson is tasked with fixing that, and he thinks that in fall camp they have made strides towards becoming a position group of strength instead of weakness.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Woodson told reporters. “It started with what I just said, coming together as a group with a lot of new faces in the room. And then just coming together to improve daily.
“That’s what those guys have done. They seek daily improvement. They have a ‘coach me, coach’ mindset. As long as they continue to come to work every day, we’ll continue to improve that stat for sure.”
Focusing on how disappointing last year’s performance from the defensive backs was could’ve been something Woodson chose to do and continue to harp on it in the spring and in camp, but he took a different approach, one he also took at Florida State.
“Coming here to Arkansas, I felt watching film and just getting some history of what went on last year, the first thing was just coming together as a group,” Woodson said. “It was the same way at Florida State. I tell the guys all the time, if you want to go far, go together. If you want to get there fast, go by yourself.”
Woodson is a part of an all-African-American defensive coaching staff that also features defensive coordinator Travis Williams, defensive line coach Deke Adams and defensive backs coach Deron Wilson. That is unique for major college football and certainly in the SEC.
“It’s a blessing for me to be a part of it, for sure,” Woodson said. “Regardless of race, you want to have a room of good men that are good football coaches. That’s going to help the Arkansas Razorbacks be the best that they can be. The all African-American part of it, that doesn’t faze me. It’s about having the right group of men around the table that’s going to come together, be as one, and help the kids be the best versions of themselves.”
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