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From There to Here: Carla Williams

Williams is the first African-American woman named athletics director in an autonomy conference

University of Virginia photo

When Carla Williams was being recruited to play basketball at Georgia in the mid-1980s, she didn’t even know athletics administrators existed. She was just happy to have a chance to go to college.

From this humble beginning, Williams has worked her way to become the director of athletics at Virginia. When Williams reported for her first day in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Dec. 11, she became the first African-American woman to lead an athletics department at a school in one of the five autonomy conferences in Division I.

Williams, who was previously the deputy director of athletics at Georgia, recognizes the historic significance of her hiring. Her experiences as a student-athlete and coach at Georgia and administrative stops at Florida State, Vanderbilt and her alma mater have placed her in position to be a role model.

“My hope is to inspire young people to care about higher education and care about the mission of intercollegiate athletics,” Williams says. “Everyone needs to believe that they can rise to the highest levels of this industry.”

While starring on the court at Georgia as a four-year letter-winning point guard, Williams also was learning about the inner workings of an athletics department. She graduated with a degree in sociology in 1989 and set the goal of becoming an athletics administrator.

She had an opportunity to be an intern in the Southeastern Conference office but chose to be a Georgia assistant coach under Andy Landers, who had recruited her from her hometown of LaGrange, Georgia, to play for the Bulldogs.

Leaping board

Williams worked on Landers’ staff from 1991 to 1996. She helped recruit Saudia Roundtree, La’Keishia Frett, Kedra Holland and Tracy Henderson, the core players of the Georgia teams that went to the Women’s Final Four in 1995 and 1996.

After the 1996 season, in which Georgia finished as the national runner-up, Williams took a job on the administrative side of athletics in compliance.

To this day, Williams counts Landers as one of the biggest influences in her life. “He is like a second father to me,” says Williams, who earned a master’s degree in public administration in 1991 before working on the coaching staff. 

On to Florida State

Williams moved to Tallahassee, Florida, when her husband, Brian, a professor, took a job on the Florida State faculty in 1997.

She became coordinator for student-athlete development and life skills at Florida State while completing her doctorate in sport administration in 2000.

Williams met with then-Seminoles Director of Athletics Dave Hart about the opportunity to work in his department. The two reached an agreement that allowed Williams to volunteer in several areas in the department.

She went on to join the staff, working in compliance and academic support to learn firsthand how those parts of the operations functioned at the school.

“I wanted to gain as much knowledge as I could at Florida State,” says Williams, who also worked on radio and television broadcasts at the school.

Nashville-bound

Williams packed her bags for Nashville, Tennessee, when she was named assistant director of athletics at Vanderbilt. She worked in the Commodores department from 2000 to 2004, becoming an associate director in her final year. She was hired by former Vanderbilt Director of Athletics Todd Turner. Williams oversaw 11 men’s and women’s sports as well as the CHAMPS/Life Skills program.

“I really enjoy working with student-athletes and seeing them accomplish their goals,” Williams says. “As a former coach, it is very fulfilling to see that. Coaches put in years and years of time with student-athletes from the time you start recruiting them out of high school until they graduate.”

Going home

Williams returned to Georgia in summer 2004 when her alma mater called. She started as the associate director of athletics and later became deputy athletics director. Before being named to her new position at Virginia, Williams served as administrator for Georgia’s football and women’s basketball programs and had supervisory responsibility for numerous other areas in athletics. In 2014, then-Georgia football coach Mark Richt asked that Williams be his primary supervisor.

“That was a pivotal part of my career,” Williams says. “It is important to be responsible for the day-to-day management of football. (Richt) trusted me and my judgment.”

To the Cavaliers

Virginia introduced Williams on Oct. 22 as the new director of athletics. “Virginia is a world-class university with elite athletic programs, and these opportunities don’t come along often,” Williams says. “I am a strong proponent that student-athletes can compete for championships and pursue academics at a high level.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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