Wittenberg filmed a short video with new Athletic Director Gary Williams last week in which he arrives at the HPER Center. A student asks for his ID, and then Ezry, the Tiger mascot, teaches Williams how to “Tiger Up.”
The first part of the clip wasn’t far off the mark. When Williams started his new job Monday, two students working the front desk at the HPER Center didn’t just wave Williams in without any question.
“They were like, ‘Who are you, and what are you doing here?’ ” Williams said.
Yet as soon as he walked in the door, Williams felt at home. He has spent all his working life at the Division III level at his alma mater, Carthage College, in Kenosha, Wisc. Transitioning to life at Wittenberg should go smoothly, even if it comes with the typical challenges of a new job.
“I did not get locked out of my office (on the first day),” said Williams, whose hiring was announced in April, “which is a huge thing because I was ultra-paranoid about that.”
Williams sat down with the News-Sun on Thursday for a conversation about Wittenberg athletics.
Q: What was your first day like?
A: “The first day was a whirlwind. (Men’s soccer coach) Steve Dawson has been doing an amazing job and (interim AD) Jeff Ankrom before him of trying to keep everything going. I really spent a lot of time with the staff. I want to get them to understand what the plan is for the summer and where we’re going. Once football hits on Aug. 12th (when players report), it’s game day. We’ve got to be ready to rock and roll.”
Q: With teams not playing and most students gone, is this a good time to start your new job?
A: “This is perfect. It’s perfect in one respect. In another respect, part of my philosophy is allowing my staff time to recharge over the summer and have time for themselves. It’s putting a bit of a strain on some of them, who would normally be taking some time for their families, to ask them to come in for me.”
Q: What are your goals for the summer?
A: “I have three real strong overarching goals for the department. One, to have a holistic student-athlete experience and to have a really positive Witt experience. The second goal is the development, mentoring and realignment of staff and structure. The last goal is a really strong look at our budget and spending, to make sure we’re maximizing our resources and making sure it’s not just about being efficient. It’s also about being responsible with the resources we’re given. We’ve already asked some tough questions about how things have been done in the past and how things are going forward.”
Q: What are the biggest challenges Wittenberg faces?
A: “I want to regenerate excitement, enthusiasm. I want people from the community back in the stands. I want people to think of Witt as their team. I’ve lived in Wisconsin all my life, and I get asked all the time, ‘Am I Badger fan?’ With all due respect, I’m not. Everyone is just exasperated by that. I believe strongly the colleges I work for, that’s my team. They’re not cheering for us.
“I don’t want to be trite. It’s not to say I wouldn’t gladly take a trip to Ohio State and enjoy that experience, but at the end of the day, I want our people here to feel they should be following our athletes and our coaches and we should be prideful in what we do here. The entertainment value and the satisfaction you feel from following sports can happen right here in town.”
Q: What do you know about the status of the new indoor athletic facility that’s in the works?
A: “I know enough to know it’s necessary and it’s probably long overdue. It’s necessary for the campus to see growth and for the campus to feel progress. The sooner I can help this institution get to breaking ground, the sooner we can see students, prospective students, community members, alums feel there’s a newness and positive spark that will see impacts in areas like enrollment and giving. I am on a mental sprint race to the groundbreaking. I also want to be realistic in knowing the needs of the university are beyond that facility.”