For many people, home is where the heart is. For Tom Williams, Yale’s new head football coach, the same can be said about college football.
“College football is where my heart is, and I am very excited about coming back,” Williams said at a Master’s Tea in Jonathan Edwards College on Thursday. “I am glad I haven’t been away too long.”
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Williams was introduced as Yale’s 33rd head football coach to a crowd of reporters and Athletics Department staff members at a news conference earlier this month. But students were on break at the time, so Thursday’s tea served as Williams’ first introduction to the Yale student body.
Over the course of the tea, the 39-year-old Williams discussed his experience coaching college and professional football with a intimate audience of approximately 20 people. Williams, who has coached at successful programs at Stanford, Hawaii and the Jacksonville Jaguars, spoke about how he got into coaching and the major influences in his life.
Williams said that his former coach and mentor Bill Walsh — the legendary coach of Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers — first inspired him to consider coaching. More precisely, Williams said the bonds he experienced growing up in what he described as a “tight-knit” Texas community have come to influence his preference to coach college football over professional football.
“I love coaching college football because I am able to impact the lives of young men,” Williams said when asked about the difference between college and the pros. “You can’t interact with a professional player once he leaves the facility; here, I can see players all the time.”
Of course, for Williams, his position as coach is about more than just football. At one point during the tea, Williams likened himself to a professor when he stated, “The field is my classroom.”
When asked about the top three lessons he would like players to walk away with after playing for him, he responded: “Knowing and understanding the value of hard work … to compete in all areas of their lives with integrity, and to know that is not all about the destiny but enjoying the journey.”
Still, just as he did at his introductory press conference earlier this month, Williams made his vision and his goals clear to the audience. The first goal on his list — to beat Harvard.
“A rivalry is not a rivalry if only one team is winning — I plan to make it a rivalry once again,” Williams stated in response to a question about The Game and how he planned to approach it.
Williams said he also envisions Yale winning the Ivy League Championship. He added that he hopes to grow Yale’s national stature and restore the respect the school deserves as one of only seven teams in all of college football to have won more than 800 games all-time.
As for Williams’ practice plan, football players may or may not like the possible practice schedule for next fall.
“I plan to hold practices in the morning next fall — students may have to wake up between 5 and 5:30 in the morning,” Williams said.
When asked about the reason for the possible change, Williams echoed his sentiments about his coaching position being about more than just football, stating: “It gives the players a chance to really enjoy campus life and all of the activities. Everyone gets a chance to get more out of their day.”
While Williams didn’t divulge too much of his future plans for the team, he did indicate that the coaches coming in will be able to connect with the student-athletes and are what he called Division I caliber coaches. The acting master of JE, Associate Dean of Yale College Penelope Laurans, expressed delight over Williams’ game plan, which she described as “stealing the initiative from the defense and pounding them with the run.”
Shebby Swett ’09, a graduating fullback on the football team, said that he believes that Williams will be great for the football program at Yale. Swett, who said he feels there is a lot of excitement about Williams’ hiring among returning football players, said he expects next year to be “a fresh start and a new beginning for many of the players.”
Kerry Rippy ’12, a self-described huge football fan, expressed that after hearing Williams and his philosophies, “This coach seems like a cool guy.”
The one knock against Williams is that he has never before served as a head coach. But that didn’t bother Athletics Director Tom Beckett when he was considering whom he should hire as the successor to Jack Siedlecki. Beckett restated that point at the tea, pointing out that great football coaches such as Walsh and Jack Del Rio, Williams’ boss in Jacksonville, each had to inspire a similar leap of faith when they were first handed the reins of a team.
“Someone had to give each of those giants a chance,” Beckett said. “Yale will be able to say Tom Williams started here. We are going to be a part of the first chapter of his book — the last will be spectacular.”