George Williams, a North Carolina sports legend and the track and field coach and athletics director at St. Augustine’s in Raleigh, has been fired.
Williams’ teams won 39 NCAA championships, the third-most by any coach in any sport in any NCAA division, and he was the U.S. Olympic track and field coach in 2004. Williams, 76, has been presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, the highest civilian honor in North Carolina, by three governors. He belongs to nine halls of fame, including the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame in Raleigh and the CIAA Hall of Fame.
Williams confirmed the news to the Winston-Salem Journal on Wednesday.
“Let me give you my lawyer’s number because they said it’s something about personnel,” Williams said by phone.
Williams, who coached more than 40 Olympians, said he wasn’t sure why he was let go.
“These people don’t care,” Williams said when asked about his Hall of Fame career. “We’re getting a new president and they are doing some things around here, so that’s all I’m going to say.”
Nick Sanservino, a Durham attorney, is representing Williams.
“St. Augustine’s unlawfully terminated his employment today without cause,” Sanservino wrote in a statement. “Coach Williams will vigorously fight for his rights so he can continue to serve the students and greater community.
“If there was ever an individual who should be able to complete his mission on his terms, it is Coach Williams.”
Williams, who has spent 47 years working at his alma mater, was asked about his legacy in the sport, which he has coached for 41 years.
“It was a good run, and Coach Williams is going to be all right,” he said.
Williams has been the CIAA coach of the year numerous times for indoor and outdoor track and in 2014 was named the CIAA athletics director of the year.
Besides being the head coach of the 2004 U.S. Olympic track team, Williams was an assistant coach in 1996 for the U.S. Olympic track and field team in Atlanta. He was also the U.S. head coach for the 1999 World Outdoor Championships in Spain and the 1993 World Indoor Championships in Canada.
Williams, who graduated from St. Aug’s in 1965, was an All-CIAA basketball player.
It wasn’t long after graduation that he started working for his alma mater, starting in 1968, holding jobs such as the director of alumni affairs, admissions counselor and director of student activities. He also coached men’s basketball.
It was in the mid-1970s when he decided to focus on track, thanks to a conversation with Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the legendary basketball coach and athletics director at WSSU.
“Big House was a big influence on me and I’ll always be grateful for how he gave me direction back in my early coaching days,” Williams told the Journal in 2005.
In 2008, Williams received the Big House Gaines Unsung Hero Award from the WSSU alumni association.
Williams was involved in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Qatar during track and field’s world championships in October. He suffered four broken ribs, a torn liver and kidneys, a fractured shoulder bone and two collapsed lungs.
“My son asked the doctor, ‘Was my situation life or death?’” Williams told WTVD’s Mark Armstrong in February. “And the doctor said, ‘Death.’ ...
“I think I was dead,” he added. “God just brought me back. Because I don’t remember nothing but that light and everything went dark.”
But Williams was back on the job at St. Aug’s last spring.
The field turf football field and track at St. Aug’s is named the George Williams Athletic Complex.
Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance and a friend of Williams, praised Williams for his value to the college and the capital city.
“To me and I think to a lot of people, George Williams is St. Augustine’s University,” Dupree told the (Raleigh) News & Observer. “I think he might be Raleigh’s greatest ambassador worldwide. Without question, he’s St. Aug’s greatest ambassador.
“He has brought worldwide attention to the university. No one has given more to St. Aug’s than George. No one has been more devoted to that university than George.”
Sanservino said that Williams has been getting plenty of phone calls since the news broke.
“As one would imagine, he has been touched by the outpouring of appreciation and support he has received today from across this country,” Sanservino wrote.