Copyright 2017 Times-World, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The Roanoke Times (Virginia)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The significance of the selection of Carla Williams as Virginia's new athletic director was not lost on the appointee.
"Yes, I am an African-American female," Williams, 49, said. "I see that every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror."
Williams, previously the top assistant at the University of Georgia, is the first African-American woman to hold the position of AD at a school in a Power Five conference.
She is not entirely unique at Virginia, where she will succeed Craig Littlepage, who was the first African-American to serve as an athletic director in the ACC.
Littlepage announced his retirement plans in early September after 17 years in the post. He will continue to oversee the department until Williams arrives at UVa in December or January.
"I do understand and appreciate the historic nature of me being named athletics director at the University of Virginia," Williams said. "I will continue to be a role model to help others reach their goals."
Virginia had announced the selection in an email that was distributed Sunday. A search committee reported to retiring UVa president Teresa Sullivan, who then sought the input of her recently named successor, James Ryan.
Representing the athletic department on the search committee was Kevin Sauer, who is the UVa head coach with the longest seniority. Sauer is in his 23rd year as Virginia's rowing coach.
"It was an impressive group we looked at," said Sauer, who said the committee interviewed six candidates in New York. "We had a meeting with the head coaches [at UVa] and President Sullivan before we actually started the interviews."
Littlepage, who has been at Virginia on and off for 40 years, was something of a model as far as "calmness under pressure," Sauer said.
"She was a presence when she came into the room. She was someone we looked at and said, 'Wow, this is an impressive woman.' "
Sauer said it was important to consider Williams' role in Georgia's separation with former coach Mark Richt after 15 seasons.
UVa football coach Bronco Mendenhall said he met with Williams, who encouraged him to call Richt, currently the coach at Miami.
"I wouldn't have reached out to anyone unless she asked me to," said Mendenhall, noting that Williams supervised Richt at Georgia.
"I was really impressed with Carla as a person, not only from a professional standpoint and all the things she's done but I was very impressed with her communication skills."
Williams grew up in LaGrange, Georgia, where she played basketball and football.
"Quarterback and wide receiver," she said when pressed about her football position. "From a very early age, I learned some very valuable lessons. I learned no one has to feel sorry for you, so do not feel sorry for yourself."
Williams was accompanied by her husband, Charles, a professor at Georgia, as well as her three children. Two girls are in college at Georgia and their younger brother is in the eighth grade.
The only previous time she could remember being in Charlottesville was for a 2002 women's lacrosse NCAA game when she was on the staff at Georgia.
She received a quick indoctrination this past weekend.
"I've already had Bodo's," said Williams, referring to a local establishment that has a wide reputation for its bagels. "My whole family had it. It was awesome."
Sullivan introduced Williams and spoke for some length before UVa rector Rusty Conner added some comments.
"I want to start where [Sullivan] sort of ended, and that's to thank Craig Littlepage," Conner said. "He built an extraordinary program here.
"We owe him so much in an area where many schools run afoul and undermine their reputation."
Then, Conner set the bar at a pretty high level.
"Aspiration for the moment, but soon to be expectation, is that we want to win the Directors' Cup," said Conner of the trophy that goes to the nation's top-achieving athletic department in a given year.
"Year in and year out, we want to be in the top five of the Directors' Cup - if not in the top five, certainly the top 10. So, that's a very tall order."
Sullivan noted that Virginia has won more ACC team championships, 74, than any other school since 2002. She also mentioned a third consecutive NCAA men's tennis title last spring.
"I also want to commend Craig Littlepage," Williams said. "I have watched Craig from afar with great admiration. You know, I have to pinch myself sometimes to realize I'll be standing in [his] shoes.
"I'm anxious to get started. I got here two days ago, so there is a lot to learn. The way that Virginia wants to do it is the way that I am built to do it."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter