Carla Williams brings determination, imagination to Charlottesville

New U.Va. athletics director boasts an extensive background in collegiate athletics

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Carla Williams was introduced as Virginia's next athletic director in late October of this year. 

Hannah Mussi | Cavalier Daily

Throughout her life, Carla Williams has always been preparing for the next step — the bigger step. The former collegiate basketball star has sought to stand out — even when growing up in LaGrange, Ga. — playing football and basketball with the boys in her local recreational center.

“From a very early age, I learned some very valuable lessons,” Williams said. “I learned no one has to feel sorry for you, so do not feel sorry for yourself. Whether you fall down or get knocked down, get up, try again, fight on. I learned how to compete against people who were seemingly bigger, stronger and faster than me. Don't be intimidated.” 

Williams has taken the lessons she learned at a young age and applied them throughout her life. She played basketball at the University of Georgia from 1985 to 1989, where she scored 1,115 points and was a three-year starter. 

Each position that Williams has held has been carefully planned, with one role preparing her for the next. After playing basketball professionally in Spain in 1989, she joined the Georgia women’s basketball program as an assistant coach in 1991. While there, the Bulldogs reached the Final Four in 1995 and 1996, and finished as the NCAA runner-up in 1996. Afterwards, Williams transitioned into athletics administration, beginning as Georgia’s assistant director of compliance from 1996-1997.  

“You know, my approach as a player, as an assistant coach, as an assistant AD, associate AD and all along the way has always been to be the very best in that job,” Williams said. “When I was an assistant coach, I wanted to be the best assistant coach in the country.”

Williams then moved onto Florida State, where she worked as a coordinator for student-athlete development and earned a Ph.D. in sports administration. From 2000-2004, she worked at Vanderbilt, where she started as assistant director and then became associate director for athletics in 2003. 

Williams returned to Georgia in 2004 when she stepped into the role of associate athletic director. She was then promoted to senior associate athletic director, executive athletic director and, ultimately, deputy director of athletics. 

“She has deep experience but also broad experience, having worked at three major universities,” University President Teresa Sullivan said. “Altogether she has more than 30 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics, as a student-athlete, coach and senior administrator.” 

Williams will step into Virginia’s athletics director  role which is currently held by Craig Littlepage — the ACC’s first African-American athletics director — as the first female African-American athletics director at a Power 5 school. 

“I have played, coached and managed at the highest levels of the NCAA, and, yes — I am an African-American female,” Williams said. “I see that every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror.”

Gaining experience at virtually every level of the collegiate athletics experience, Williams has upheld her role and consistently exceeded expectations and is ready to take on a new challenge. 

“I have served as a role model throughout my career as a student-athlete, as a coach and as an administrator,” Williams said. “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 inherits a tradition of excellence coming into the Virginia athletics department. Since 2002, the Cavaliers have collectively won 13 national championships and an ACC-leading 74 conference championships. Virginia also boasted an average student athlete GPA of 3.043 and had 323 student-athletes on the ACC Academic Honor Roll in 2016-17.  

“As we progressed, we realized that we found someone who does value the student experience and whose passion is making each student the success that he or she can be,” University Rector Rusty Conner said. “Not only on the playing field, but in the classroom as well.” 

One of the key qualifications that Williams maintains is her experience with a successful football program — and that’s aside from playing quarterback and wide receiver growing up in LaGrange. Williams served as the administrator for Georgia’s football and women’s basketball programs, where she oversaw ticketing, student services, academic support services, sports medicine and strength and conditioning. 

“College athletics is a challenging enterprise,” Williams said. “The way that Virginia wants to do it is the way that I am built to do it, and we'll continue to focus on academic achievement. We'll do it with integrity. We'll give maximum effort, and we're going to come together as a team — not just within our different sports teams, but within the athletic department and within the Charlottesville community.”

Williams has accomplished all of this while raising a family of three children — Carmen, a senior at Georgia, Camryn, a freshman at Georgia and Joshua, an eighth grader — with her husband Brian, an associate professor of public administration and policy at Georgia. 

Williams attributes her success and her assumption of Virginia’s director of athletics role to the things that have carried her throughout her life — a big imagination and the motivated drive to get things done. 

“Dreams do not know genders or colors,” Williams said. “I am living proof that anything is possible if you have the nerve and the imagination to believe it can happen.”

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