The Wolfson football program has been in search of something special for nearly a decade.
Six days into spring football practice, athletic director Cindy Talley called with news that she’d been waiting weeks to share. Wolfson had officially hired Tom Williams, a former Stanford linebacker with two college degrees and a resume filled with high-profile college and professional jobs. For the Wolfpack, it could be a game changer.
He’s served in assistant roles at six Football Bowl Subdivision programs and spent three years as head coach at Yale before resigning in 2011 after a New York Times story questioned credentials on his resume.
Coaches with major college and professional experience don’t often make the move down the ladder in the prime of their careers. And a coach with those credentials would have to be hesitant about taking a position with Wolfson, which hasn’t had a season above .500 or reached the playoffs since 2004.
“I think impacting these kids, you hear a lot of different things about Wolfson and the hard times that they’ve fallen under,” Williams said. “Certainly as a competitor you want to get those things turned around so that the guys can experience success on the football field as well.”
At 44 years old and having just spent a year at Florida International, Williams said that it was the right time to scale back. With four children between the ages of 5 and 10, Williams said that he wanted to be a parent who was around more.
“For me, I’m not going to speak for those other guys, but for me, the quality of life is more important,” he said. “I’ve always said to players I’ve coached, I want to win games, I want to win championships as much as the next guy. But at the end of the day, I want my gravestone to read that he was a beloved father and husband. I don’t want my won-loss record on there.”
When FIU didn’t retain Williams last December, he began looking elsewhere. Jacksonville made the most sense.
Having spent two seasons on staff with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2007-08), Williams had a residence in town. He was Wolfson’s top candidate from the moment that Talley saw his resume, the same one that led to Williams stepping down at Yale in 2011.
“We're very proud. I think it’s a big hire when you’re able to get a well-known coach who’s going to help lead our program back to the playoffs,” Talley said. “We were aware of the situation [at Yale] and did mull it over. We felt pleased with his response when we asked him point-blank about it. We’re fortunate to have him.”
For the Wolfpack, it’s a promising sign that things could be incrementally on the upswing. There’s no quick fix, and both Williams and the players know that. He talks about building relationships to lay a foundation on and convincing players that they can be successful. There’s been a culture of losing at Wolfson for years, whether on the field or watching athletes transfer out. Wolfson went 2-8 last year and hasn’t posted a season with more than three wins since 2008. Spring has been about trying to change that mind-set.
“I think in a year or two, we can get back there [contending in district play],” junior defensive end Spencer Jones said. “Last year, it felt just so day-to-day. It’s more serious now. Practices are shorter, but there’s more in it. More running, which is good.”
Williams also knows that his time at Yale will always be a topic. He went 16-14 in three seasons at the Ivy League program.
In 2011, the New York Times revealed that Williams had counseled his quarterback, Patrick Witt, about a decision over sports and academics. Witt had to decide whether to attend an interview as a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship, or compete in the Harvard-Yale game.
Williams listed on his resume that he was a candidate for the Rhodes honor when he was in college and had to make a similar decision as Witt’s about academics and athletics. Williams also said that he was on the practice squad for the San Francisco 49ers.
The story gained traction along the way, and the Times story forced Yale to open an internal investigation into the discrepancies.
He later clarified that he had partaken in a three-day rookie minicamp but never signed with the team. As for the Rhodes incident, Williams said that he was “encouraged to apply” for the prestigious honor although he never officially did.
“It was a difference in opinion on what it means to be a candidate, Webster defines a candidate as someone who’s been nominated for a position. That’s what I was. It’s been on my resume since I graduated,” Williams said.
“It is frustrating. The whole story wasn’t told. With the legal process, sometimes you can’t exactly tell the whole story because of financial implications and all that other stuff. Why would a guy with two degrees from Stanford need to formulate anything in his resume? That doesn’t make any sense.”
It certainly didn’t hurt Williams. He landed assistant positions at UTEP and FIU the following seasons and then came to Wolfson.
“It’s a lot more organized. It’s easier to communicate with him,” sophomore right tackle Marvin Rolle said. “Knowing his past and where he came from, it’s a different feeling. We’re very excited.”
Justin Barney: (904) 359-4248