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Arkansas looks to hire DC with SEC experience

Another day, another development in Arkansas’ search for a defensive coordinator. This time it seems like things are finally in transition as Sam Pittman looks to hire Travis Williams from UCF.

There have been plenty of names emerge as strong candidates including Geoff Collins, Tray Scott and Ron Roberts.

It seemed like Roberts was prepared to take the job before Auburn offered and he took the position.

On Friday, reports from multiple outlets reported that Tulane’s Chris Hampton emerged as the candidate. However, one of my sources came to me and said Hampton would be a good choice but wouldn’t be the guy.

The search was supposedly narrowed on Friday.

“The defensive coordinator hire, we’re closing in on that,” Pittman said.

With the potential hire of Williams, Arkansas will be gaining a players coach, elite recruiter and aggressive play caller.

The Golden Knights were 39th in the country in scoring, 75th against the run and 73rd against the pass.

Arkansas has struggled mightily in recent years with third down defense. UCF allowed teams to convert at a 37-percent rate which was top 50 in the FBS.

Finally, Williams’ defense was one of the best in the country in redzone defense allowing opponents to convert at 68-percent clip. Their performance was good enough for fifth in the country.

Here is Williams’ profile on the UCF website:

PROFILE: The UCF defense came on strong down the stretch in 2021 under first-year defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Travis Williams—who was the Knights’ nominee for the Frank Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country. UCF won six of its final seven games to close the season (finished off by a victory over Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl)—with Williams’ defense permitting only 11.8 points per game in those six combined victories. The Knights averaged 8.1 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks in those six games—and finished the regular season ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense (110.73) and 26th in tackles for loss (6.8 per game). Among Williams’ most successful pupils was linebacker Tatum Bethune, who paced the Knights in tackles with 108 (his 9.0 average per game ranked second in the conference and 24th nationally). He earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors from Pro Football Network, second-team selection by Pro Football Focus and honorable mention notice in All-AAC voting by the league coaches. Linebacker Bryson Armstrong led the team in tackles until a late-season injury—but he still finished with 77 stops, helping him earn fourth-team All-AAC recognition from Phil Steele.

Other UCF defenders meriting All-AAC postseason recognition by vote of the league’s coaches were end Big Kat Bryant (first team), safety Divaad Wilson (second team) and Bethune (honorable mention). PFF also saluted safety Quadric Bullard (second team), cornerbacks Davonte Brown and Corey Thornton and Wilson (all third team)—plus end Tre’mon Morris-Brash. Phil Steele feted Bryant (first team), Wilson and Bullard (both fourth team). PFN also selected Bryant on its first team, plus naming him AAC Newcomer of the Year and AAC Defensive Lineman of the Year. Williams’ first UCF defense improved 97 spots in the NCAA team pass efficiency defense rankings compared to 2020, 86 spots in passing yards allowed (89.1 fewer per game in 2021) and 70 in total defense (122.5 fewer yards allowed per game in 2021).

The former Auburn co-defensive coordinator, linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator was named UCF’s defensive coordinator by Knight head coach Gus Malzahn on Feb. 17, 2021. He begins his second season at UCF in 2022. Auburn finished in the top 17 in the nation in scoring defense under Williams in four of his last five seasons (2016-20) with the Tigers. Williams also mentored All-Southeastern Conference linebackers in three consecutive seasons. During Williams’ five seasons as linebacker coach under Malzahn, the Tigers ranked fifth nationally in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, allowing only 54 combined rushing TDs (eight in 2016, nine in 2018). In 2020 Tiger linebacker Zakoby McClain led the SEC in tackles with 113. In 2019, Auburn’s defense ranked eighth nationally in both red-zone and third-down defense, allowing only 19.5 points per game against a schedule that featured six 11-win opponents. The 2018 Auburn defense ranked 14th nationally in scoring defense (19.2) and allowed only those nine rushing touchdowns. The Tigers ranked in the top 20 nationally in sacks (38) and tackles for loss (96) and were ninth in the country with three interception returns for touchdowns. In 2017 SEC West champion Auburn ranked 14th in the country in total defense (319.4) and 12th in scoring defense (18.5), allowing just 4.67 yards per play, eighth-best nationally. Senior linebacker Tre’ Williams earned second-team All-SEC honors. In 2016 the Tigers ranked 11th in red-zone defense and 28th in total defense (361.9), an improvement of 43 spots over the previous season, and held eight consecutive oppo­nents without a rushing TD, the longest season streak at Auburn since 1957.

Williams signed to play football at Auburn in 2001 and earned All-SEC honors in 2004 and 2005 (first-team selection in 2004) as a linebacker. He led Auburn in tackles (80) during the 2004 undefeated season; he was second in tackles in 2005 (68) and third in 2003 (67). He won the Pat Dye Leadership Award on defense in 2004 and 2005. Williams played for the NFL Atlanta Falcons during the 2006 and 2007 seasons before beginning his coaching career. He was a graduate assistant at Auburn from 2009-11, served as linebacker coach at Northern Iowa, then spent one year as defensive coordinator at Creekside (Georgia) High School before returning to his alma mater. He was promoted to linebacker coach at his Auburn prior to the 2016 season, after holding various roles on the Tigers’ football support staff. While continuing to coach linebackers, he became co-defensive coordinator in 2019 and added the role of recruiting coordinator in 2020. Williams earned his bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Auburn in 2005 and received a master’s degree in adult education from Auburn in 2011. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Williams and his wife Jeanine, an Auburn graduate, have three daughters—Tru, Reign and Brave.