For new coach, a debut in front of the cameras, too

For a search that seemed as if it would never end, it was fitting that even after their selection had leaked out, officials in the Athletics Department faced one last delay before they could introduce Yale’s next head football coach.

A mix of snow and rain blanketed New Haven early Wednesday as the University prepared to formally introduce Jacksonville Jaguars defensive assistant Tom Williams as the 33rd head coach of the Yale football program. So on Day 42 of the search — “I know there are people in this room who have been counting,” Athletics Director Tom Beckett joked — officials pushed Williams’ introductory press conference from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Tom Williams is surrounded by news reporters after being introduced as Yale's next head football coach.
Tom Williams is surrounded by news reporters after being introduced as Yale's next head football coach.

But with the more than 100 onlookers finally assembled in the Varsity Room on the second floor of Ray Tompkins House, Beckett christened Wednesday “a very, very special day for Yale,” and Williams made the most of it.

For a man who never before has led a program as a head coach, the 39-year-old certainly did not struggle with the spotlight. Thanking University administrators for the opportunity to coach the Bulldogs, Williams cracked jokes for the television cameras and promised Yale would turn The Game into an actual game.

“I’m very excited to be here,” Williams said. “I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled to accept this position.”

Williams, who coached previously at the collegiate level at Hawaii, Washington, Stanford and San Jose State, wore a black four-button suit with faint pinstripes, a gray shirt and a navy tie patterned with tiny Yale football helmets. A bulldog pin glimmered on the lapel of his suit.

In a scene more often witnessed at big-time college football programs, a battalion of television cameras stood sentry on a riser in the back of the room, and photographers jostled for position at the front as Williams embraced Beckett and prepared to address the crowd.

In a 10-minute speech, Williams introduced the assembled masses to his wife, Tonya, whom he described as the “head coach of our household.” He thanked everyone from the legendary coach Carm Cozza to Yale College Dean Mary Miller, not to mention the long line of coaches who mentored him as he worked his way up the coaching ranks.

And Williams was clear about his goals, vowing to win the Ivy League and to turn The Game “back into a rivalry.”

But more than anything else, the crowd seemed to delight in Williams’ life story, both on and off the football field. With self-deprecating humor, the new coach recalled his undergraduate years at Stanford, telling stories of his time singing in Stanford’s gospel choir and writing his senior thesis on Martin Luther King Jr.’s trip to India in 1959. He even broke into Italian at one point to discuss his experience studying abroad.

“So that means, I studied in Florence for three months, but I’ve forgotten everything,” he said to laughter.

Williams received praise from those in attendance for his performance in front of the cameras. “He showed his great personal warmth and his professionalism,” said Edward Kamens, the master of Saybrook College. “I think he will be an inspiring new leader for Yale football.”

Afterward, Williams held court at the front of the room, posing for pictures with Handsome Dan and greeting well-wishers with a firm handshake.

A scrum of reporters quickly encircled him, asking about everything from the significance of being named coach in the year Barack Obama is to be inaugurated as president to his experience coaching under the legendary Bill Walsh. It was the kind of attention Williams surely did not receive as one of 18 assistant coaches on the staff of the Jaguars.

“Now the questions are coming,” observed Tonya Williams, whom Beckett presented with a bouquet of flowers.

That’s only the beginning, she was told.

She smiled. “He can handle it,” she said.

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