Sam Pittman appears to have put the finishing touches on his 2023 Arkansas football coaching staff.
Florida quality control coach Deron Wilson has been tabbed as the Razorbacks’ 10th and final on-field assistant, the UA announced Tuesday. He worked with the Gators’ cornerbacks and will coach the secondary alongside co-defensive coordinator Marcus Woodson at Arkansas.
The exact role — coaching cornerbacks or safeties — for Wilson is unclear, but most of his experience is with cornerbacks, the position he played in college.
Barring any more changes, he completes Pittman’s coaching staff by filling the void created by the departure of cornerbacks coach Dominique Bowman, who held the position for just one year before mutually parting ways with the Razorbacks. He has since taken a similar position at Temple.
Much like the first two cornerback coaches hired by Pittman, Wilson is a young up-and-comer with no experience as an on-field assistant at the Power Five level. Prior to spending last season at Florida, the 32-year-old had stops at McNeese State and UTSA, where he worked for his uncle, Frank Wilson.
His first position was as a graduate assistant at UTSA from 2016-17 and then he was promoted to an on-field role for the 2018-19 seasons, coaching cornerbacks. Wilson then followed his uncle to McNeese State, becoming the defensive coordinator of the FCS program.
The two seasons he worked as a cornerbacks coach with the Roadrunners actually makes him the most experienced cornerbacks coach Pittman has hired at Arkansas. Sam Carter, who had the position from 2020-21, came to Fayetteville as a defensive quality control coach at Missouri, while Bowman had been a cornerbacks coach at Marshall for just one season — in addition to multiple lower-level stops — before getting the job with the Razorbacks.
Closer Look at Deron Wilson
A standout player at O. Perry Walker High School in his hometown of New Orleans, Deron Wilson signed with Southern Miss and, after redshirting in 2009, put together a really solid career with the Golden Eagles.
Phil Steele named him a second-team Freshman All-American in 2010 and Rivals tabbed him first-team All-CUSA in 2011. Over a three-year span, Wilson made 171 tackles and had 8 interceptions, four of which he returned for touchdowns.
Having started 39 straight games at cornerback, he likely would have gotten a taste of Reynolds Razorback Stadium as a fifth-year senior, as Southern Miss visited Arkansas for a game in 2013, but an ankle injury wiped out his final season of college football. He got a shot in the NFL with an invitation to the Giants’ rookie mini camp, but that was the end of his playing days.
Wilson got into coaching at UTSA, where he was a graduate assistant who worked with the defensive backs. In his second year in that role, the Roadrunners boasted a top-10 scoring and total defense. They also allowed only 160.1 passing yards per game, which ranked second nationally, helping him get promoted to an on-field role the following year.
“Deron Wilson served an integral role in the development of our corners during the 2017 season,” then-head coach Frank Wilson said. “Deron thrived as a player at the cornerback position while at Southern Miss and his passion to teach the fundamentals of the position were an important component in establishing a Top-10 nationally ranked defense in 2017. We’re elevating Deron’s role as he’s prepared to lead the group on a full-time basis. He’s earned this opportunity.”
While it is probably unfair to pin it all on the cornerbacks, Wilson’s position group, UTSA’s pass defense struggled in his two years on staff. The Roadrunners ranked 123rd in 2018 and tied for 73rd in 2019, allowing 275.3 and 230.8 yards per game, respectively.
His top cornerback, though, did grade out well on Pro Football Focus. Cassius Grady posted 71.2 and 66.1 grades under Wilson’s guidance.
Wilson then followed his uncle, Frank Wilson, to McNeese State after he was fired from UTSA. He was named the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys and held that title for two years.
Although his two units didn’t have a ton of success, Wilson did help McNeese State improve its scoring defense from 28.9 points per game (67th out of 97 FCS teams) in the 2021 spring season to 24.9 points per game (tied for 41st out of 123) in the fall of 2021. He also mentored two-time FCS All-American and Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Chambers, a defensive end.
When Frank Wilson resigned following the 2021 season to rejoin the staff at LSU, Deron Wilson was on the move again and landed his first SEC gig, serving as a quality control coach working with cornerbacks at Florida.
Before his lone season in Gainesville, Deron Wilson was named one of six coaches the Atlanta Falcons awarded a Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship — a program aimed at developing minority coaches. It allowed him to observe and participate in the Falcons’ training camp.
What it Means for Arkansas Football Recruiting
With the hire of Deron Wilson to replace Dominique Bowman, Sam Pittman will have three new defensive assistants in 2023. The lone holdover is defensive line coach Deke Adams, who just completed his first season on the Razorbacks’ staff.
In addition to Wilson, Pittman also brought in Travis Williams from UCF as a defensive coordinator and Marcus Woodson from Florida State as a co-defensive coordinator. They are expected to coach linebackers and the secondary, respectively.
Considering Wilson was at Florida last year, all three new defensive assistants will be coming to Arkansas from the Sunshine State, which Pittman has openly discussed as an area he’d like to hit more on the recruiting trail.
The state has produced several notable Razorbacks through the years, such as linebacker David Bazzel, running backs Michael Smith and Alex Collins, wide receiver Javontee Herndon and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, but it hasn’t been a consistent recruiting ground.
Of course, Wilson spent only the one year in Florida. He has much stronger ties to Louisiana, as that’s his home state and he has worked under notable Louisiana recruiters Frank Wilson (at UTSA and McNeese State) and Corey Raymond (at Florida).
With Louisiana sharing a border with Arkansas, it has been a much more fertile recruiting ground for the Razorbacks among other college programs given it is No. 2 in the nation in terms of NFL players produced per capita behind only Georgia. However, Pittman has signed only three players from the state in four classes: defensive back Nick Turner and linebacker Kelin Burrle in 2020 and offensive lineman Devon Manuel in 2021. The Hogs almost nabbed Louisiana native Laterrance Welch, a blue-chip cornerback, but couldn’t flip him from LSU.
Before Pittman, there had been some recruiting headway made in Louisiana with recent standouts like Jared Cornelius, De’Jon Harris, Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr., but the latter two, both defensive backs, chose to transfer to LSU instead of remaining at Arkansas.
It seems as though Pittman has made a concerted effort to hire assistant coaches with recruiting ties within the SEC footprint. Adams and Woodson are from Mississippi and Williams is from South Carolina and played at Auburn.
Georgia has been a heavy emphasis for the Razorbacks thanks to Pittman’s time with the Bulldogs, as well as running backs coach Jimmy Smith’s time as a high school coach in the state. Special teams coordinator Scott Fountain has also helped them tap into Alabama.
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