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Volume 25 No. 239
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Late Vanderbilt AD David Williams Leaves Legacy Of Success

Many admirers credited Williams for keeping social change at the forefront of his job
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Former Vanderbilt AD DAVID WILLIAMS, who died Friday at age 71, was the "first black athletics director hired by an SEC school" and spent his 16-year tenure with the university "trying to push social change on campus and balance Vanderbilt's dual task of competing in academics and athletics," according to Adam Sparks of the Nashville TENNESSEAN. Williams' last day as AD was Jan. 31, and his retirement party was "set for Friday night on campus." He was known for his "brilliant mind, his dedication to student-athletes and a quirkiness signified by the black track suits and sneakers that he wore on a daily basis." Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos called Williams an "incomparable leader." Williams always "kept social change at the forefront of his job," including with his '10 hiring of football coach JAMES FRANKLIN -- the "first black coach of a major sport at Vanderbilt and only the third black football coach in SEC history." Williams had "planned to spend his time establishing Vanderbilt's new Sports, Law & Society Program, which would explore the impact of sports on social change." He was a member of the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities Committee and several other boards (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 2/9). In Birmingham, Teresa Walker noted Williams was "nicknamed the Goldfather" for his "success at the school." He had been the SEC's "second-longest tenured" AD behind Kentucky's MITCH BARNHART when he announced his retirement last September. During his stay, Vanderbilt "won four national championships" and enjoyed its "most football success in nearly a century." He also oversaw "upgrades to McGugin Center, home to the football program, along with building an indoor football practice facility that also has a track, upgrades to the baseball field, and offices and renovations at Memorial Gym" (AL.com, 2/8).

LASTING IMPACT: In Nashville, Joe Rexrode wrote if there is "one point that has to be made about him right now, it’s that he was real." Every AD uses the term “student-athlete,” but Williams "earned the right to use it." Leaders often "take on social issues, but they were personal to Williams." He was "not a schmoozer," which is "not always beneficial in today’s world of college athletics." Williams was criticized for "not getting enough done in the areas of fund-raising and facilities upgrades." Rexrode: "When you’re assessing a person’s life, those things seem awfully artificial and extraneous." Nashville MLS Owner JOHN INGRAM, a Vanderbilt alum, said that people "should remember Williams for 'his love and dedication to the student-athletes." Ingram: "David truly cared about each and every one of them" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 2/9).

THOUGHTS FROM PEERS: Twitter tributes poured in for Williams on Friday. The Athletic's Stewart Mandel wrote Williams "had a profound impact on Vandy athletics." Univ. of South Carolina Exec Associate AD Charles Bloom: "There was never a doubt that he cared about the student and the athlete, about Vandy, the SEC and college athletics." SB Nation's Christian D'Andrea: "He worked to give the school's student athletes the recognition they deserved and interacted brilliantly with fans, donors, and the press alike." Attorney Charles Bone: "I had as much respect and admiration for him as anyone in Nashville."