Latest candidate nearly misses visit for NMU football coach


Journal Sports Writer

MARQUETTE — Whoever is named the new football coach at Northern Michigan University will have a rebuilding process after seven consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-8 record last season.

On Friday, Fairmont State University head coach Jason Woodman made his case to the NMU community and search committee with his on-campus interviews about why he should be the man to restore the program’s glory days.

But his ideas were nearly put on hold due to poor transportation connections from Fairmont, West Virginia.

After rushing through Pittsburgh’s airport to beat their layover with less than a minute to spare, Woodman and his wife barely arrived in Marquette to find their luggage didn’t make his connections in Pennsylvania.

To make matters worse, his rental car at the airport, warming up outside for his arrival, was stolen from the parking lot before he could find it.

These misfortunes left Woodman asking at first if Marquette was the right fit.

“It was a tough point where I was wondering if I should get back on the plane and go back to West Virginia,” Woodman said. “But when my wife and I got to see the town and meet the people, we love it here. We hope to to call this place home and build something special here.”

Woodman’s track record includes turning around struggling programs in the past, bringing a Fairmont program that saw back-to-back 3-7 records his first two seasons to going 6-4 in 2015, winning six of their final eight games, then leading the Falcons to the NCAA Division II playoffs last season with a 10-1 regular-season record.

At Fairmont, Woodman inherited a program that might have required a bigger turnaround than NMU faces.

“When I walked into Fairmont the first day, we didn’t even have footballs,” Woodman said. “I was looking around for them, asking if anyone had seen them, but it was a problem we walked into.

“It was a program that had a lot of pride and tradition in the past but it had been struggling. That’s where it was at, and through a lot of hard work and dedication from all of us, we made a conscious decision that we were tired of losing and wanted to fix it.”

Woodman credited his success to mentors who are legends in the game, serving as a graduate assistant at Louisiana State University on coaching staffs led by Nick Saban and Les Miles from 2004-06 and Bobby Bowden at Florida State University in 2007. He worked under those team’s offensive coordinators.

In 2008, Woodman was hired as a running backs coach at California University of Pennsylvania, where he helped the program win its first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship, reach the national semifinals and set a school record for wins in a season.

After turning around a program once, Woodman did it again as an offensive coordinator at Bowie State in 2011 and 2012, setting school records and competing amongst the top of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association while coaching three all-conference players.

At Fairmont, Woodman’s offense has scored 30 points or more in 11 games, and his teams have produced 16 all-conference players in four seasons.

When asked how his players would describe him, Woodman said he was humbled and admitted while he holds his guys to high standards off the field, he does what he can to produce great character in them.

“As much as I don’t want to admit it, they might say I’m a soft guy with a big heart,” Woodman said. “I look at coaches like being a father to a kid with a firm hand, but also picking them up and letting them know you care about them.

“Football means something, but I want them to know I care about them and I want them to be successful and lead them in the right direction.”

Offense is Woodman’s specialty, and has been NMU’s strength over the past few seasons. Woodman said running a successful offense is ever-changing.

“The days of tight end-back sets, huddles and running power are kind of over,” Woodman said. “We’ve evolved into a narrate offense. But when you’re going fast pace, your defense also needs to be ready and prepared to play more.

“I’ve trickled back toward playing fast, but you also need to focus on running the ball when you have to on short yardage. It’s a hybrid between the two, mixing the tight end into the game while keeping a tempo.”

While the NMU offense has seen some success in recent years, the defense has struggled and kept the Wildcats from competing amongst the top of the GLIAC. Woodman said his staff has the right game plan to turn around the defense.

“Our schematical philosophy is we’re a 4-2-5 defense,” Woodman said. “It gives you multiple outlets. You can put (in) an extra linebacker or safety, or choose a single- or high-man coverage.

“That philosophy is important walking into a program where you don’t know the personnel. We can get into a situation where we don’t know the linemen we have, and it might not be as big of an adjustment. It’s a good approach with different outlets.”

Ray Bressette can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. His email address is rbressette@miningjournal. net.