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Feb. 2, 2018

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia’s new athletics director has been on job for less than two months, and she’s still learning her way around Grounds, still familiarizing herself with the school, her department and the local community. To accelerate that process, Carla Williams has spent much of that time meeting with and listening to the Cavaliers’ stakeholders.

It’s been a whirlwind for Williams, who came to UVA from her alma mater, the University of Georgia, but she’s not complaining.

“What I’ve realized is that Virginia is everything that I thought it would be,” she said recently in her McCue Center office.

“It’s an affirmation of all of the reasons that I thought Virginia would be a great place to work, and it is. Great people. Great coaches. Great school. A lot of opportunities to help us get even better. We’ve got some challenges, but I look at challenges as tremendous opportunities to make things happen, so we’re working hard to get a plan in place to do that.”

Williams, whose first official day on the job was Dec. 11, succeeded Craig Littlepage, who retired after 16 years as the Cavaliers’ AD.

At Georgia, from which she has two degrees, Williams served in a variety of roles in athletics administration, most recently as deputy AD. At UVA, in an athletics department that sponsors 27 varsity teams, she’s still figuring out who’s who and who does what.

“It’s been interesting,” Williams said, “because I’m a people person, and I hate to not know people’s names. But it’s so many people. I remember faces and what their responsibilities are, or I remember a face and a name and not what their responsibilities are. But it’s been really good, because it’s allowed me to get to know people a little bit better, and earlier, because I ask more questions to help me remember who they are.”

She’s added two staff members since her hiring was announced in late October: deputy athletics director Jim Booz and senior associate AD and chief of staff Nancy Rivers.

Booz, who came from Georgia with Williams in early December, already knew his way around town. He previously worked at Virginia as associate AD for compliance (2004-07) and associate AD for academic affairs (2007-11).

Rivers knows the University well too, having worked there for nearly three decades. For the past 12 years, she served as chief of staff to the UVA president and as associate vice president for administration.

Williams has met individually with members of the department’s senior management team, with UVA’s head coaches, and with the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Student Athlete Mentors (SAM).

“I wanted to get out and meet as many people who touch athletics as possible,” Williams said, “so I could get a better understanding of what we do and why we do that. Those things are on track. I’ve toured facilities and have a really good idea of what we need to do facility-wise, so I’m working through that process now, and there’s some work to do there.”

Williams regularly invites guests to her suite at John Paul Jones Arena during men’s basketball games. These are educational experiences for Williams.

“Every game, I get a chance to meet with a different set of supporters to get to know them and hear their stories and how they’re connected to the athletic department,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of those conversations.”

If there’s been a recurring message from donors and fans, Williams said, it’s that they want UVA “to be more competitive in football. And they should want to be more competitive in football, because Virginia is such a well-respected athletic program, with such great coaches that have had tremendous success, that you want to ensure that every program can be a part of that.

“With football, I know the players and the coaches definitely want to be a part of the overall success of the department, and we want them to be a part of the overall success, so we’re all pulling in the same direction. I think it’s obvious that we want to be better in football, so we have to do what it takes to be better in football.”

Coming from Georgia, which played Alabama for the national title in football last month, Williams knows well the importance of the sport.

“A competitive, financially stable football program creates flexibility throughout an athletic department,” said Williams, who has a Ph.D. from Florida State.

“Even incremental increases in ticket sales provide huge benefits for a department. And so we’ve just got to work really hard to become competitive, not just for our football program’s sake, but for the entire department. A healthy football program is good for the department and it’s good for the community and it’s good for the University.”

The Wahoos are in their third year under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. After finishing 2-10 in 2016, the ‘Hoos last year became bowl-eligible for the first since 2011. Virginia finished 6-7 after losing to Navy in the Military Bowl. Like thousands of UVA fans, Williams attended the game on a frigid day in Annapolis, Maryland.

“Bronco and I, we talk, and I know he sees it as a work in progress, and nothing that you’re building for the long haul happens in two years,” Williams said.

“He knows that. I know that. And so the question is: Do we have the right pieces in place? Are we laying the right foundation? Do we have the right plan? Do we have the right support from a human-capital standpoint, from a budgetary standpoint, from a facilities standpoint? I think he and I both are evaluating all of that and see that we’ve got some shortcomings that we are going to work really, really hard to overcome.”

Williams recently approved the hiring of four full-time assistants for Shawn Griswold, UVA’s new director of football development and performance. His predecessor had two full-time assistants and a graduate assistant.

“Sports medicine is important,” Williams said. “Nutrition is important. Strength and conditioning is important. Facilities are important. Recruiting is important. Personnel are important. There are areas within all of those where we can get better, and strength and conditioning is one of them, just starting with the staff and making sure we’re fully staffed.”

At Georgia, Williams played for head coach Andy Landers in one of the nation’s premier women’s basketball programs, and she later was an assistant coach on Landers’ staff in Athens. Her enthusiasm is unmistakable when she talks about the UVA men’s team, which is ranked No. 2 nationally and leads the ACC.

“From afar, as a former player and a former coach, I appreciated Virginia basketball,” Williams said. “It’s a unique style, and I love it. And I’ve always watched Virginia play. So then getting here for that first game [in December] and walking in and seeing all those people in the arena, I got chills.”

She marvels at the passion of the crowds at JPJ and their “appreciation for great defense and great hustle, great teamwork. The fans are so knowledgeable about what it takes to win in the long haul. They love shot-clock violations, the hustle plays.

“Coming from Georgia, and even being at Florida State and Vanderbilt, I know that different schools have their own unique flavor. Basketball here has been a totally new experience for me.”

John Paul Jones Arena remains one of the finest venues in college basketball. That the facilities for several UVA sports, including football, which has been based in the McCue Center since 1991, need to be upgraded is no secret.

“So as I talk to the coaches, as I tour the facilities and understand our needs, I’ve got to formulate priorities,” Williams said. “I’m in the process of doing that now, but there’s a great need in football. But we also have other programs that have a great need as well.”

Williams and her husband, Brian, an associate professor of public administration and policy in UGA’s School of Public & International Affairs, have three children: daughters Carmen and Camryn, and a son, Joshua.

Brian Williams, who was an associate professor at Georgia, is a visiting professor in UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy this semester.

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