David Williams stepping down as Vanderbilt AD

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- David Williams II, the first African-American athletic director in the Southeastern Conference, is retiring from his role overseeing Vanderbilt athletics and as vice chancellor.

The man nicknamed the Goldfather for his work guiding Vanderbilt athletics to success that was not considered possible at the Southeastern Conference's only private university announced his decision Tuesday. He will stay on as athletic director and vice chancellor until his replacement is hired, then become a full-time law professor. He also is establishing a new Sports, Law & Society program at Vanderbilt Law School.

Williams, 70, will leave as the SEC's second-longest tenured athletic director, behind Kentucky's Mitch Barnhart.

Originally, Williams told Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos last October that he wanted to retire June 30 after turning 70 in January, but then agreeid to stay another year to assist the transition.

"I just want them to be able to get somebody that can come in here and keep the ball rolling," Williams told The Associated Press.

Zeppos, who chaired the SEC committee that hired Greg Sankey to replace Mike Slive as commissioner, will oversee the search for a replacement.

"The only challenge will be making sure that the person understands that they're walking into a great university and they're kind of following on the footsteps of someone who is really a giant in our history and in college athletics," Zeppos said.

Zeppos said he will consult with coaches, athletes and students. How to improve Vanderbilt Stadium, with the last major renovation at the SEC's smallest football stadium coming in 1981, will be part of the discussions in hiring a new athletic director.

"We'll get it right," Zeppos said. "We'll get it right the Vanderbilt way."

Williams has overseen Vanderbilt athletics since 2003, adding the athletic director title in 2012. Under his watch, Vanderbilt has won four national championships combined in baseball (2014), women's tennis (2015) and women's bowling (2007, 2018), along with the best football success in nearly a century.

Vanderbilt, after not having been to a bowl game since 1982, has been to five under Williams' tenure, starting in 2008 and most recently in 2016. It marked a huge turnaround for a program that ended the SEC's longest bowl drought and a 25-year stretch without a winning record.

"I remember the disbelief that people had," Williams said. "But I knew we could do that. And quite honestly, I also knew that the hardest thing of all of this was going to be football because of the size of it and that this is the Southeastern Conference. So I always thought that we could do these things."

Williams hired both James Franklin, now at Penn State, and current coach Derek Mason in football. He hired Bryce Drew and Stephanie White in 2016 to coach men's and women's basketball. He has retained Tim Corbin as baseball coach; Vanderbilt's streak of 13 straight NCAA Tournament berths is best in the SEC.

He also helped oversee upgrades to McGugin Center, home to the football program, along with building an indoor football practice facility that also has a track, upgrades to the baseball field, and offices and renovations at Memorial Gym among others.

Williams said his favorite moment as athletic director is reconciling Vanderbilt with the late Perry Wallace, the first black basketball player in the SEC. Wallace routinely suffered indignities while playing for the Commodores, both at home and on the road. Vanderbilt retired Wallace's jersey in 2004, and Williams and his family made the first donation to a new scholarship in Wallace's name earlier this year.

"There's a lot of proud moments that I will remember and remember, but I think that's the proudest," Williams said.