After an All-SEC career at the University of Georgia, Carla Williams was climbing the ranks as a college basketball coach. She had just served as an assistant on the Bulldogs team that made it to the 1996 NCAA championship game, and it seemed only a matter of time before she landed a head coaching gig.
But that’s when Williams changed course.
Having recently had a child, the LaGrange, Georgia, native decided to transition into administration. The move, which would take her to Florida State, Vanderbilt and back to Georgia, has worked out well.
Williams, deputy director of athletics at Georgia, was hired in October to succeed UVA Director of Athletics Craig Littlepage—who, like Williams, was a college basketball player and coach before going into athletics administration.
Williams, 49, agreed to a five-year contract with a base salary of $550,000, plus incentives. She is the first African-American woman to serve as athletics director at a school from a Power Five conference (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12). “Dreams do not know genders or colors,” Williams said at a press conference in October. “I am living proof that anything is possible if you have the nerve and the imagination to believe it can happen.”
President Teresa A. Sullivan selected Williams in consultation with incoming President James E. Ryan on the recommendation of a search committee that worked with the firm Korn Ferry.
Her work with a successful football program at Georgia was a big selling point. “Most importantly, we needed someone who knew football—and knew football at a very high level,” said Board of Visitors Rector Rusty Conner (Col ’78, Law ’81).
Williams has high praise for Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall, whom Littlepage hired in 2015. “I believe the way that he is trying to do it is the right way,” she said. “He is building a foundation.”
Ryan had much praise for Williams.
“She is exceedingly well-prepared for this role,” Ryan wrote in a press release, “but more than that, she is fiercely committed to excellence in both athletics and academics and has a track record of success in both arenas. I cannot wait to work with Carla, a kindred spirit who sees leadership as a chance to serve those around her and to create the conditions for their success.”
Littlepage agrees that Williams is a great choice. “She is further ahead than when I took over as athletics director in 2001…in terms of the administrative preparation, the readiness,” he said. “I have confidence in what she’ll be able to do here at Virginia.”