Vanderbilt's David Williams, the first black AD in the SEC, dies

Former Vanderbilt Commodores vice chancellor and athletic director David Williams has died, the university announced Friday. He was 71.

Williams, the SEC's first black athletic director, announced his retirement in September, and a party to celebrate his retirement had been planned for Friday night.

"David Williams stood tall on this campus, in this city and in college athletics nationally as an incomparable leader, role model and dear friend to me and so many others," Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said in a statement. "We are devastated by this loss. His impact on our community is immeasurable and will be felt for generations to come. We offer our deepest condolences to [wife] Gail, his children and the entire Williams family on this immense loss."

Williams oversaw Vanderbilt athletics for 15 years and officially left his position on Jan. 31, making way for new athletic director Malcolm Turner.

In a statement, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said "the entire SEC family is profoundly saddened" by the news of Williams' death.

"Personally, I am saddened to have lost a friend and a person who guided me in many ways," Sankey said. "David had a remarkable and lasting impact on his university and the SEC, leading Vanderbilt to Conference and NCAA championships with integrity and honor. His love for Vanderbilt's student-athletes and support of student-athletes nationally, his steady leadership and his legacy as a trailblazer have moved the Vanderbilt community in ways that will be felt for generations."

On Williams' watch, the Commodores won four national championships -- in bowling (twice), baseball and women's tennis. Williams also hired James Franklin as head football coach; Franklin led Vanderbilt to back-to-back nine-win seasons, in 2012 and 2013, which had previously never been done at Vanderbilt.

Franklin, who now coaches at Penn State, was scheduled to fly in for Williams' retirement party.

The Vanderbilt football team also played in six bowl games during Williams' tenure and broke a 25-year postseason drought in 2008 under then-head coach Bobby Johnson.

"David authored a remarkable legacy at Vanderbilt, one defined by blazing trails and championing the student-athlete," Turner said in a statement. "In my short time at Vanderbilt, I was fortunate to have cultivated a friendship with David, who most proudly coveted his role as a husband and father. All of Commodore Nation mourns the loss of David."