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Williams' hiring ushers in new era for Cal athletics

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MAY 08, 2015

When Chancellor Nicholas Dirks introduced Michael Williams as Cal’s new Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at a press conference Friday, he was finally making official what most had been speculating for a while.

On Monday, information — first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle — came out that Williams had been selected as the school’s next athletic director, but Dirks ended the speculation with an email to the campus community early Friday morning.

“It became abundantly clear that Mike Williams was far and away the person best positioned and equipped to lead our storied athletics program at this point in our history,” Dirks wrote.

Williams has served as the interim athletic director since former athletic director Sandy Barbour stepped down last June. The former Cal wrestler will bring to the position a great deal of managerial and financial experience. Williams also has many ties to the campus community and serves as the vice chair of the UC Berkeley Foundation.

The UC Berkeley alumnus is going to find his success in the position closely linked with the athletic department’s success with improving the academic outlook for student-athletes, running in line with the suggestions of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Academics and Athletics.

“Our highest calling as university administrators and educators is to provide all that our students need to realize their full potential; to take advantage of the incredible educational, cultural and experiential opportunities Berkeley offers; and to contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our campus community,” wrote Dirks.

His tenure in the position will also be defined by the success of the campus’s athletic programs, especially the football and men’s basketball teams. The men’s basketball program, headed by Cuonzo Martin, seems to already be on its way up, as Cal has recently secured two of the top 10 recruits in the nation to play for the team next season. Williams has previously expressed confidence in head football coach Sonny Dykes’ ability to lead the football program. Dykes will need to live up to Williams’ confidence in him by leading his team to an improvement on the 5-7 record it secured in 2014.

“Ultimately, our goal is to build the strongest intercollegiate athletics department possible while furthering the right conditions for success,” Williams said in a statement to Cal Athletics. “Our priorities are to support our teams in their quest to compete for and win championships; continue to improve our student-athletes’ everyday experience and find more ways to better integrate student-athletes and staff with the campus.”

Williams will head the program in a time of possibility for great changes in how intercollegiate athletics work. There are lawsuits and discussions regarding the discussions of whether student-athletes should be paid. Not only at Cal, but throughout the NCAA, there are efforts being made to improve what has been deemed lackluster academic performances by student-athletes. There have even been calls for the Big 5 conferences — the ACC, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the SEC and the Pac-12 — to split off from the rest of the NCAA and take control of major college athletics. Williams will certainly have a lot on his plate with all of these challenges, but Dirks seems to think he will be up to it.

“Since arriving at Berkeley, it has been an eye-opening experience for me to meet and get to know many of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, alumni and supporters who comprise Cal Athletics’ extended family,” Dirks wrote. “They deserve nothing less than the best in a leader, and I am confident that in Mike Williams we have found exactly that.”

Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

MAY 08, 2015

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