ATHENS – Man, it’s an exciting time at Georgia.
I realize that all everybody really wants to talk about – or read about – is the matchup Saturday between the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs and Florida in Jacksonville. I understand that and plan to give the World Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party its just due all week and through the weekend. Can’t wait to get down there on Thursday.
In the meantime, something important has happened at Georgia. Very important. And it has to be addressed now.
Carla Green Williams is leaving. The Bulldogs’ No. 2 athletic administrator has accepted the position of athletic director at the University of Virginia. She accepted the job on Sunday and was introduced by the Cavaliers on Monday.
This is a big deal on so many levels. First of all, it’s a history-making hire. A former guard on Andy Landers’ women’s basketball team at Georgia, Williams becomes the first-ever female African-American athletic director at a Power 5 conference institution. She is just the fifth active female athletic director at that level.
Here’s what I think is most impressive about it: Williams got there the hard way. She worked her way through the ranks. She did it while balancing a marriage and raising a family.
This isn’t the story of the former star athlete who was rewarded with a high-profile position from the jump. This wasn’t an “appearances” thing. No, Williams’ route to the top was to earn a college scholarship as a player, become the first in her family to earn a college degree, become a coach, earn a master’s degree, move into administration, earn a Ph.D., get promoted, then get promoted again, then get promoted again and again.
Why did Williams keep getting promoted, you might ask? Well, it was not because she was black or female. It was because she flat-out got things done.
Consider for a second what Williams did while working in Georgia athletics. There at the end, as deputy AD, Williams was responsible for the day-to-day operations of Georgia’s $127 million athletic department. That included serving as chief administrator for the Bulldogs’ football program – one of the only women in America to handle that responsibility. She also was administrator for women’s basketball, and she oversaw more than a few areas: Georgia’s academic support services, business operations, compliance, event management, external operations, facilities, new construction, human resources, sports facilitators, sports medicine, strength and conditioning, student services and ticketing. Williams also served as liaison to the president’s office, provost’s office, general counsel, equal opportunity office and student affairs, and as deputy Title IX officer.
This is not meant as any disrespect to Georgia’s athletic director, Greg McGarity, but Williams was a steel cable that ran through every girder that has held up that department for the better part of the last decade. She was at Georgia for 13 years, the last nine as part of the senior leadership.
Give former Georgia athletic director Damon Evans credit for bringing Williams to Georgia from Vanderbilt, where she earned her Ph.D. and broke into athletic administration as an assistant athletic director. Evans – who recently was promoted to Maryland’s interim AD – got Williams here by making her an associate AD.
Give McGarity credit for continuing to entrust responsibility to Williams. She became senior associate athletic director in 2008, then executive associate athletic director (2011-2015) and finally deputy AD. At the end, they didn’t have any more titles they could give her.
Well, there was one more. She would have gotten that one, too, if and when McGarity decided to retire.
Here’s the most impressive part: Williams achieved all this while being a wife and mother.
I can’t profess to having a bunch of intimate knowledge about the home life of Carla and her husband, Brian, a Georgia associate professor of public and international affairs. But I saw enough to know they handled with balance and grace what had to be an extremely complicated challenge as working professionals. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Williams at a Georgia event, athletic or social, with daughters Carmen and Camryn and son Joshua in tow. Sometimes it’d be all three, or one, or two or none.
Williams’ ability to get those kids to and from school and all their extracurricular activities while maintaining a demanding job of leadership always amazed me. As a single father who’s had to bring my son along for work on many occasions, that’s hero stuff for me.
Here’s the thing, though: Williams is leaving, and that presents a problem for UGA. Oh, sure everybody’s happy for her. She’s a Georgia letter winner and graduate, and she has landed in groundbreaking fashion a job that’s going to pay her $550,000 a year over the next five years. President Jere Morehead, McGarity and football coach Kirby Smart, who was a direct-report to Williams, all offered congratulatory messages.
But Williams’ absence is going to leave a gaping void in Georgia’s athletic department, and I’m not just talking about the many hats she wears and duties she filled. I’m talking about from the standpoint of diversity.
The Bulldogs already had a dearth of minority representation in their athletic department. That’s especially true at the senior administrator level. Now the Bulldogs’ No. 2 athletic administrator is gone, and not only was she awesome at her job, she happened to be female and black.
I went through UGA’s athletic association staff directory on Monday just to take a cursory inventory of who’s doing what for the Bulldogs right now. There’s not many people like Williams doing big, important jobs around there.
And it’s not like there haven’t been opportunities. In case you haven’t noticed, UGA has been hiring folks right and left in athletics. Every time I turned around this past summer, Smart was bringing in a new support staff member. Eleven months ago, McGarity brought back Josh Brooks as executive associate athletic director. He’d probably be the next in line if the Bulldogs look to promote from within, which is their typical way of doing things.
I know of at least two other administrative hires Georgia made heading into this fall. Neither was female or African-American.
I’m not sharing that to criticize UGA, necessarily. I just want the public to be aware, and UGA to know, that we’re paying attention. And we’re going to pay close attention to what happens with this position going forward.
Look, I’m just a sportswriter. I’m not a political activist or anything like that. But UGA is a proud state institution that provides opportunities for everybody. And I just happen to love the Carla Green Williams story. She’s everything that college athletics purports itself to be.
She wasn’t just an OK player that got into athletic administration. A LaGrange native, she was a three-year starter for the Lady Bulldogs (1987-89) who finished 10th in scoring (1,115 points), second in assists (425) and third in steals (285) when she completed her career. She played professionally overseas for a short time. Not only did she work as an assistant coach, she was on the bench for Georgia teams that would play in two Final Fours.
It’s great that Williams ended up at Virginia as a history-making hire in athletics. But the Cavaliers’ gain is definitely a big UGA loss. The Bulldogs need to make sure they have some more “Carla Williams” types in the making. And if they don’t, they need to go out and find them, wherever they are.