LaGrange’s Williams makes history

Published 4:27 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – She’s making history.

LaGrange native Carla Williams will become the first-ever African-American female director of athletics at a Power Five school when she takes over that position at the University of Virginia.

Williams, who has worked in sports administration at the University of Georgia for the past 13 years, will take over at Virginia for Craig Littlepage, who has been the school’s director of athletics for 16 years.

The move was announced on Sunday and Williams was introduced during a press conference on Monday, although a start date has not been announced.

After graduating from the University of Georgia, Williams spent five years as a coach before going into administration, and that is where she has remained.

The 49-year-old Williams enjoyed tremendous success at Georgia, and she has been the school’s deputy director of athletics since 2015.

“I knew the quality of the university here at Virginia,” Williams said on Monday. “So I think an elite, world class university that has proven that you can win championships, there aren’t many of those.”

Williams’s journey began in Troup County where she was a standout basketball player and a part of two state-championships teams at LaGrange High.

Williams also played football as a child, and she told the amassed reporters on Monday that her positions were “quarterback and receiver.”

“From a very early age, I learned some valuable lessons,” she added. “I learned no one has to feel sorry for you, so do not feel sorry for yourself.”

After graduating from LaGrange, Williams went to Georgia on an athletic scholarship.

She was a three-year starter at Georgia, and she remains one of the top players in the history of the program.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1989 and a master’s in public administration in 1991, she was an assistant basketball coach at Georgia from 1991 to 1996.

She moved into administration in 1996, and she worked at Florida State and Vanderbilt before returning to Georgia in 2004 as an associate athletic director.

While at Florida State, Williams earned a doctorate degree in sports administration.

While Williams does have some coaching experience, she said she has always believed that her future was in administration.

“I knew when I went into coaching that I did not want to be a head coach,” she said. “I went into coaching to become a better administrator, and so I coached for five years and had great success.”

Williams understands the significance of her hiring, and she embraces the historic aspect of it.

“I have served as a role model throughout

my career as a student-athlete, as a coach and as an administrator,” she said. “I take great pleasure in serving others. I will continue to be a role model to help others reach their goals. For anyone who aspires to be in this position, it does not matter if you are black or white, male or female, if you aspire to be in this role one day, the most important thing you need to know is I am the athletics director at the University of Virginia because I have always done more than what was expected of me.”

Williams said she has always strived to be well-rounded, and to not place limits on herself.

“I have pushed myself to earn advanced degrees,” she said. “I made it a point to get experience in every area of intercollegiate athletics. I believe no job or responsibility within athletics is too small, and no one person is too big. I have played, coached, and managed at the highest levels of the NCAA, and, yes, I am an African-American female. I see that every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror. Dreams do not know categories. Dreams do not know genders or colors. I am living proof that anything is possible if you have the nerve and imagination to believe it can happen.”

Jim Ryan, who is set to replace Teresa A. Sullivan as Virginia’s president, calls Williams a “spectacular” hire.

“She is exceedingly well-prepared for this role, but more than that, she is fiercely committed to excellence in both athletics and academics and has a track record of success in both arenas,” he said. “I cannot wait to work with Carla, a kindred spirit who sees leadership as a chance to serve those around her and to create the conditions for their success.”

Sullivan added that Williams is “committed to the success of every varsity sport, and this is a perfect fit for UVA, where we’re committed to broad success across sports programs. She also has experience with one of the nation’s top football programs.”

Littlepage, who has enjoyed tremendous success as Virginia’s athletic director, said Williams made quite an impression during the interview process.

“She was a presence when she came into the room,” he said. “She was someone we looked at and said, ‘Wow, this is an impressive woman.’”

While Virginia is thrilled to have Williams, Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox said it’s a big loss for his school.

“I told (Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett) last night, I’m just crushed, because she has been so good to Georgia, so good for me as a coach, but best for our student athletes,” Fox said. “It’s obviously with mixed emotions that we see her go. We’re happy for her, but we’re sad to lose her.”

Fox believes Williams’ vast experience has helped prepare her for this position.

“I think one of the great strengths that she possesses, is she understands this entire universe from everybody’s perspective,” Fox said. “She’s been a student athlete, she’s been a coach, she’s been in administration, she’s a parent.”

Mark Richt, the long-time football coach at Georgia who is now at Miami, weighed in and said “Virginia did a great job in hiring Carla Williams. They hit a home run.”

Williams’ responsibilities at Georgia were wide-ranging, and she was involved with every aspect of the athletic program.

“I love it so much,” Williams said of being in administration. “I’m so passionate about it. It gives me great fulfillment every time I come to work, every time I meet with a student-athlete, every time I talk to a coach, every time I go to an athletic event. It’s just a great feeling. It’s not really work to me. It’s my purpose, and I’m fortunate enough to know that it is my purpose and I enjoy it.”

Williams’ husband, Brian, is a professor of public administration at Georgia, and they have three children, Carmen, Camryn and Joshua.

The two daughters, Carmen and Camryn, are students at Georgia, and Joshua is in the eighth grade.