In Arkansas, when we hear of someone “poaching” we immediately think of the jackwad who hunts on land where they don’t have permission. It’s illegal and if it’s not punishable by serving time in prison, it should be.
In college football, poaching players and coaches from other programs is not only a reality, it’s an accepted way of life. Everybody does it. Nobody cares. And, if you don’t expect it, you’re not paying much attention. In fact, in college sports the term is synonymous with “career advancement” and who can blame anyone for wanting to advance their career?
Nevertheless, it’s still pretty sweet when your team poaches a player or coach from another coach you’re not particularly fond of.
No one should have expected that both Kendal Briles and Barry Odom would be around for the long term. They’re too good. It appears Briles, Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, will stick around to coach KJ Jefferson for one more year, but Odom, the former defensive coordinator, has rolled the dice by taking over the head coaching position at the University of Nevada Lost Wages.
Poaching Gus Malzahn’s Man
As Pittman and the Hogs have often done with the portal where players have been lost, Pittman has found a way to replace them with better ones. The same may be happening in the annual coaching carousel.
Pittman has replaced Dowell Loggains with Morgan Turner from Stanford who has sent a plethora of tight ends to the NFL. Now the spotlight is focused on replacing Odom. And, it appears, Arkansas will secure said replacement from Arkansas’ old buddy Gus Malzahn, or as Houston Nutt would say, Gus Mal-a-Zahn.
You don’t have to be an elephant to remember that Gus fleeced the Hogs in order to get a huge raise at Auburn, which ultimately provided the Hogs with some high school coach from Texas named Chad Something-or-Other. Don’t worry. I’m not going there.
It appears the Hogs are in the process of poaching Gus Malzahn’s tree by taking away Travis Williams from him at Central Florida to be the new defensive coordinator for the Hogs. He is eminently more qualified to coach the Razorback defense than the aforementioned high school coach from Texas was to coach the whole team in Fayetteville.
Travis Williams’ Coaching History
As mentioned, Williams is currently defensive coordinator for the Knights of the University of Central Florida. A lot of fans don’t feel he’s as good as the previous hot candidate from Tulane but, if history is any indicator of the future, the future could be bright for the Hogs defense.
According to his UCF bio, Williams was an All-SEC linebacker at Auburn in 2004 and 2005 and compiled 215 tackles over his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He went on to briefly play in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons, under Bobby Petrino no less, and then hung up his cleats and picked up a clipboard.
Williams was a graduate assistant from 2009-11 at Auburn under Gene Chizik, then coached linebackers at Northern Iowa during the 2012 season and was defensive coordinator for Georgia’s Creekside High in 2013. He found his way back to the big leagues as a defensive analyst for Auburn in 2014 and ’15 and became the Tigers’ linebackers coach in 2016 under Malzahn. By 2019, he was co-defensive coordinator before heading to Miami for one season in 2020. He has been defensive coordinator at UCF since.
No question he has a resume that would impress anyone. He’s moved up the ranks each season, a clear indicator that the coaches he’s worked for think highly of him.
Why Arkansas Football Fans Should be Excited
But, what has he really done that means something to the hundreds of thousands of Hog fans who will most likely never meet him in person? Well, A WHOLE LOT. His Golden Knights defense looked a lot better against Cincinnati than the Hogs’ defense did this year.
First, Razorback Nation should know that it’s not just his coaches that he’s impressed. To further link him to the Hogs, he was a nominee for the Broyles Award in 2021, which celebrates the best assistant in the country.
In 2021, the Knights moved up nearly 100 spots from the previous year in pass efficiency defense rankings. His defense allowed 89.1 fewer yards per game than it did in 2020 and moved up 70 spots in total defense. Keep in mind there are only 131 teams in the FCS.
This season his defense ranked 71st in total defense. That may not impress you. But, just remember, Arkansas ranked 123rd. If the Hogs’ defense had played well enough to be ranked 71st in the country, the Liberty Bowl would have never been a consideration for the Hogs.
But, here’s what matters just about as much. Sam Pittman lives by a philosophy that essentially says, “If you can’t recruit, you can’t coach for me.” I have no doubt that his boisterous personality makes him a great recruiter. I mean, the guy moonlights as a rapper/musician who created the unofficial pump song for Auburn. When you combine that with the fact that every bit of his playing and coaching days have been spent in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, he’s a homerun. Those three states are a virtual recruiting Mecca and that can’t be anything but good for the Hogs.
Despite the naysaying of some, Arkansas football fans should be drooling over him like Big Red slobbers over a trough of feed. Malzahn’s man is a homerun for Razorback Nation.
Get a sense of Travis Williams’ rapping chops here:
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