Former Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams II died on Friday, the university confirmed.
“David Williams stood tall on this campus, in this city and in college athletics nationally as an incomparable leader, role model and dear friend to me and so many others. We are devastated by this loss,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said in a statement. “His impact on our community is immeasurable and will be felt for generations to come. We offer our deepest condolences to Gail, his children and the entire Williams family on this immense loss.”
Williams had been on Vanderbilt’s faculty since 2000 and run the university’s athletic department since 2003. He retired last Thursday, and the university was scheduled to hold a retirement party for him this Friday night.
He was also the first African American athletic director in SEC history.
Under his leadership, Vanderbilt Athletics had its most successful on-field era in its history, capturing four national championships and sending its football team to six bowl games. He hired countless successful coaches in his tenure, including football’s James Franklin and Derek Mason, basketball’s Bryce Drew and Stephanie White and soccer’s Darren Ambrose. He also worked with Vanderbilt Baseball’s Tim Corbin to help that program become one of the most successful in the country.
Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, Williams taught in the law schools of Ohio State University, Capital University and the University of Detroit.
“The Vanderbilt family is saddened to learn of the passing of David Williams,” said athletic director Malcolm Turner. “David authored a remarkable legacy at Vanderbilt, one defined by blazing trails and championing the student-athlete. In my short time at Vanderbilt, I was fortunate to have cultivated a friendship with David, who most proudly coveted his role as a husband and father. All of Commodore Nation mourns the loss of David, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Gail, his four children, his six grandchildren, and his great-grandson.”
He originally announced his retirement back in September, but agreed to stay on board until June 2019 to ensure a smooth transition to the new athletic director. Turner assumed the role last Friday.
“Legacy is a funny thing for me,” Williams told The Vanderbilt Hustler in an exclusive interview last week. “I’ve never really been into that. I really think my legacy will be my kids. If you have to put something on the department, and what we did, I sincerely hope that when they look back, they’ll say all of the things he was responsible for doing, we did better. I think that if nothing else, it becomes the baseline.”
“I don’t want it to be the record, because the record would mean we didn’t do any better. I want it to be that ‘Yeah, you remember back then when they only won so-and-so? We did this. They only made one trip to this, we did that.’ Everything that they do will be better, but the hope will be that it emerged from what we set as the baseline.”
Williams also said last week that his proudest accomplishment as athletic director was repairing the university’s broken relationship with Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player to play in the Southeastern Conference.
“He is what college athletics is about, and through my short tenure here, I’ve realized truly how much he cares for the student-athletes, and how much he cares for things to be done the right way,” Vanderbilt Basketball head coach Bryce Drew said last week. “I have the most respect for him and he’s a mentor for me.”
Williams also touted his close personal relationships with student-athletes as a vital part of his job. Numerous former student-athletes have lauded Williams for the way he connected with the players that wear the black and gold.
The university said they will share more details on arrangements and plans to honor Williams’ legacy as they become available.