No one can say David Williams has not worked hard.
For much of his time at Vanderbilt he has had multiple jobs, with each one multifaceted in its own right. Vice chancellor for student affairs. Chief legal counsel. Athletics director.
Along the way there were those who were critical of him. The primary complaint was never that he didn’t do his job(s), only that there did not seem to be time enough in the day for him to do everything effectively. Or that on occasion his attire accurately reflected someone who had too many other things on his mind.
Anyone willing to take on that sort of workload does not just quit cold turkey.
In Williams’ case, the first step out the door was to give up much of his workload but not all of it. He recently was reassigned to the re-created role of athletics director. It allows him to retain a prominent role in campus leadership, relieves him of a lot of daily stress and allows him to aim his energy in a single direction.
Here’s the thing: Given the current state of Vanderbilt athletics, specifically the football program, there is an opportunity to do some really spectacular things at the moment. Williams ought to seize this moment and his newfound focus to try to redefine the university’s entire athletics profile.
It’s time to think big.
Start with a new football stadium, one that features seats that have backs and cupholders and that recline ever so slightly. It doesn’t have to accommodate 100,000 spectators, but it seems reasonable to think it would be much easier to attract 40,000 or 45,000 to a welcoming, comfortable venue than it is to get a little more than 30,000 into the current, outdated structure.
The new stadium ought to serve as the centerpiece to an athletics complex that features a first-rate, state-of-the-art student-athlete center, which houses training rooms, weight rooms, student life and academic centers. There should be a separate building for coaches and administrator’s offices.
For too long, Vanderbilt has crept along like a diminutive Smart Car on the Autobahn. It does just enough with its facilities to stay relevant but hardly keeps pace with the rest of the programs in the Southeastern Conference. Yes, it has broken ground on an indoor practice facility for the football team, but that’s a project that advances the school to only a decade or so behind the others.
Now is the time to change all of that.
Sure, there are logistics involved. It’s not as if there is a lot of available real estate along West End Avenue. There are a lot of really smart people on campus, though, more than enough to work through a challenge such as this.
Plus, it costs money — obviously. Then again, if there is one thing that is true of college athletics in this country, it’s that success in football means an increase in donations. Vanderbilt football is as successful now as it has been in nearly any living person’s memory. Back-to-back bowl seasons and a rout of Tennessee ought to have alumni around the world feeling much more giving than usual. Someone has to make the contacts and ask.
In short, it’s going to take a lot of hard work.
Maybe that is not what Williams envisioned when he transitioned into his new position. Perhaps he figured he would be out at games on weekends, hire a coach or two, keep the books balanced and — eventually — gracefully fade into his golden years.
If he stops and thinks about it, though, this is his chance to ensure that Vanderbilt athletics — football and all — remains relevant and competitive and interesting long after he has left campus.