Jacksonville Jaguars defensive assistant Tom Williams was introduced on Wednesday as the 33rd head coach of the Yale football team, becoming the first African-American to hold the position.
Williams, 39, was to the point in presenting his goals for the program, the first being to capture the Ivy League championship.
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“And secondly, we’re going to beat Harvard,” Williams said at an afternoon news conference. “We’ve got to turn The Game back into a rivalry. You know, it’s been a little bit one-sided these last few years. A rivalry is only a rivalry when there’s some give-and-take, and the last few years there’s been too much take.”
A graduate of Stanford, Williams was a standout linebacker for the Cardinal and was nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship. After college, he served as an assistant for 11 years at Hawaii, Washington, Stanford and San Jose State before spending the last two years as a defensive assistant for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Tom has all the qualities that we were looking for in a head coach, and he not only shares the vision of the experience we want for our student-athletes here at Yale, but he lived it as a student-athlete himself,” said Athletics Director Tom Beckett, who got to know Williams when he was an administrator at Stanford and Williams was being recruited to play football.
Williams becomes only the second African-American head football coach in the history of Ivy League football, following Norries Wilson, the head coach at Columbia.
“I look forward to the day when it doesn’t matter what the color of the skin of a coach that’s hired at any place is, but unfortunately I don’t think we live in that era yet,” Williams said. “Movement is glacial; it’s happening, but it’s glacial. And I’m proud to wear that banner for African-American coaches.”
Williams, who played linebacker in college, was a captain of the 1992 Stanford team that went 10-3 and won a share of the Pac-10 title. An undrafted free agent, he spent the 1993 season on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad but returned to Stanford the next year to earn a master’s degree in university administration. While there, he served as a graduate assistant under coaching legend Bill Walsh.
In 1996, Williams joined the coaching staff of the University of Hawaii, where he spent three seasons, including one as the Rainbow Warriors’ defensive coordinator. He then moved on to the University of Washington, where he served as the linebackers coach under Rick Neuheisel from 1998 to 2001, until returning to his alma mater in 2002.
At Stanford, Williams was co-defensive coordinator for two seasons and in 2004 was named associate head coach. The next season, he went to San Jose State, where he was co-defensive coordinator and helped lead the team to a 9-4 record and a win in the New Mexico Bowl in 2006. After that season, he moved to the pro level and joined the Jaguars.
“Tom has extensive experience as a coordinator on the college level, and that along with the knowledge he gained in the NFL will serve him well as a head coach,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said in a statement. “He has shown strong leadership qualities and is a very good communicator. I’m happy for Tom; this is a great opportunity for him.”
Williams succeeds Jack Siedlecki, who resigned in November after 12 years as Yale’s head coach and accepted an administrative position in the Athletics Department. Siedlecki posted a 70-49 record as head coach, but his team lost seven of the last eight games against Harvard, drawing ire from students and alumni.
All of Siedlecki’s assistants have continued with recruiting since Siedlecki’s resignation. Williams said at the news conference that he planned to meet with them in the next 24 hours, but he did not indicate whether he would retain some or all of them, or bring in his own staff.
Jorge Castillo contributed reporting.