Vanderbilt community reacts to David Williams’ passing with the same passion he embodied


Ziyi Liu

Athletic Director David Williams speaks at a press conference regarding the status of the search for the Men’s Basketball head coach opening March 28, 2016.

Simon Gibbs, Senior Writer

When Vanderbilt University officials confirmed on Friday afternoon that former athletic director David Williams had passed away, emotions ran rampant throughout the Commodore family.

Countless student-athletes, coaches, and alumni took to social media to show their appreciation for Williams. The outpouring of love spoke to his legacy at Vanderbilt as more than just an athletic director; it shed light on Williams as a person, a friend, and above all, as a beloved member of the community.

During his tenure as athletic director, Williams had an immense impact on the lives of student-athletes, both on and off the field. LaDarius Wiley, a member of the Commodores football team since 2014, can attest: through thick and thin, Williams showed nothing but love, empathy, and support for his student-athletes. For that, Williams’ impact will “last forever,” Wiley tweeted.

Wiley was one of many Vanderbilt football players to tweet about his everlasting legacy. Even Commodore football alumni made sure to chime in. Oren Burks, now a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, fortified Wiley’s memo: “your legacy lives on through us.”

The coaches of Vanderbilt football followed suit. Derek Mason shared a heartfelt message on Twitter, including a photo of the two embracing in 2016, after Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee to become bowl-eligible.

Before Williams brought in Derek Mason, entrusting him with Vanderbilt’s largest athletic program, it was James Franklin at the reins. Franklin propelled the Commodores to three bowl games in his three years as head coach, and became the only coach in program history to take Vanderbilt to consecutive bowl games. He may now be the head coach of Penn State, but Franklin contributed some words of his own.

“I will forever be grateful to the man that was willing to step away from the office and attend Grandparents Day with my children; the man that dropped off Christmas gifts, laughed, cried, and believed in me and my family,” Franklin’s tweet included.

Commodores basketball players, coaches, and alumni contributed messages of their own. Riley LaChance made note of that same off-the-field passion Williams had for his Commodore family. He went on to say what many others were thinking: “Vandy and this world won’t be the same without him.”

From the hardwood to the diamond, the messages were strikingly similar. David Price, Carson Fulmer, and Dansby Swanson, MLB players and products of Vanderbilt University, tweeted about Williams’ impact on the lives of student-athletes.

Nine-time PGA tour winner Brandt Snedeker continued the conversation. As a former student-athlete, he believes that “Vanderbilt is a better place because of him, but it won’t be the same without him.”

Sports reporters far and wide honored Williams’ legacy. From Vanderbilt alumnus Buster Olney, who was on-campus for a Sports Reporting Workshop when the news broke, to Clark Kellogg and Paul Finebaum, Williams was honored as a trailblazer.

The extended Vanderbilt family will continue to mourn the passing of David WIlliams, but through his many accomplishments, there’s certainly a lot to be proud of. Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, said Williams “was a man who in many ways embodied the spirit and optimism of our city.”

The Tennessee Titans also released a statement in which they noted Williams’ respect from the “Nashville Sports Community.” Clearly, his endless commitment to student-athletes and to athletic programs was inspiring to other teams, programs, players, and fans in the Nashville area.

Out in Knoxville, the Orange community is often trained to despise of anything sprinkled with black and gold. David Williams, however, simply did not fail to inspire. University of Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer released a statement of his own, detailed on the Tennessee Athletics Twitter.

As the Vanderbilt community mourns an immense loss, many have shared stories of love and inspiration. The outpouring of love will continue to grow, just as Williams’ impact on this university will.

“Vanderbilt is a better place because of him, but it won’t be the same without him.” -Brandt Snedeker