The most challenging part of Carla Williams’ first visit to the Roanoke Valley came on the drive from Charlottesville.
Williams, the athletic director at the University of Virginia, and UVa athletic fundraiser Jim Harshaw were headed south on Interstate 81 during the early stages of what became a 6-mile backup Thursday.
Fortunately, Williams arrived in Salem in plenty of time to address the Roanoke Valley Sports Club, and if anybody was curious about the wreck, she had a photo of one car piled on top of another.
Williams, whose term as UVa athletic director officially began last December, spoke without notes for 30 minutes before answering about a dozen questions.
“I’ve had the type of year that most athletic directors will never have,” said Williams, who came to UVa from Georgia, where she was deputy director of athletics and specifically oversaw the Bulldogs’ football team.
“I was a part of the No. 1-ranked football team in the country [at Georgia]. I get here to UVa — I love basketball — and the UVa men’s team is ranked No. 1 in the country. To be part of the No. 1 football team in the country and the No. 1 men’s basketball team … that just doesn’t happen.”
Williams has been joined in recent months by a new UVa president, Jim Ryan, following the retirement of Teresa Sullivan, whose term ended July 31.
“Teresa Sullivan did something, I thought, that was really awesome,” Williams said. “During the process to hire a new athletic director, she included Jim Ryan in that process.
“When I interviewed for this job, I interviewed for Jim Ryan and Teresa Sullivan. I basically had two presidents for the last eight months. [Ryan is] wonderful. He’s a sports fan. He’s a runner. He watches sports and already has several of our sporting events on his calendar.
“I think he’ll be another great supporter of athletics. He’s already said to me, ‘Let me help with fundraising.’ He’s seen the plans. He knows what we need.”
Williams said that she has been devoting considerable time to a master plan for facilities.
“A lot of people thought that when [John Paul Jones Arena] was built that University Hall was empty,” Williams said, “but there are more than 400 student-athletes in there and a lot of staff members.”
Demolition of University Hall, which opened in 1965, is scheduled for November 2019.
“I had a meeting [Wednesday] with Ralph Sampson,” said Williams of the Cavaliers’ three-time national basketball player of the year in the 1980s. “I was curious about what he thought about U-Hall coming down.
“Obviously, that was a special place for him. And I said, ‘What do you think about it?’ He said, ‘I’ve seen it and I understand.’
So, that was good for me to hear someone with so many great memories and understood that it was great for the university but knew we needed new facilities.”
Williams also addressed the UVa football facilities and particularly the McCue Center weight room.
“What we’re doing at Virginia is not an arms race,” she said. “I was part of an arms race at Georgia and an arms race is when you have what you need and you continue to build because competitors are doing that.
“For us, our construction is to meet a need, not just for recruiting but for our current student-athletes. Five years from now, I hope we have a football operations center and I hope we have an Olympic sports operation center.”
When Williams opened up the floor for questions, it wasn’t long before venerable UVa supporter Dr. Kellogg Hunt raised the matter of Virginia’s recent lack of success in football, describing the program as “pitiful.”
There was a clear reference to UVa’s 14 straight losses to Virginia Tech.
“I’ve grown up a fan of football,” said Williams, who signed to play basketball at Georgia and also considered Alabama and Auburn. “My dad and I used to sit on the front porch and listen to Georgia football games on the radio.
“So, there’s a long history of [me] seeing and being a part of good football. At Georgia over the past 13 years, [with] various levels of involvement, I have seen a lot in regards to football.”