Midtown: Sports

Raleigh Olympics coach a humble legend

George Williams doesn’t have to stay in Raleigh.

He has coached the St. Augustine’s College track and field program to 31 national championships, and his student athletes have a 95 percent graduation rate.

Among the 32 Olympic athletes he’s coached, three are gold medalists. He served as head coach to the U.S. Men’s Olympic Track and Field Team in Athens, Ga., in 2004. He has an international reputation and no shortage of job options.

Williams, 69, stays at St. Augustine’s for a simple reason: He loves it. After 36 years as its track and field coach, there’s nowhere he would rather be than his alma mater.

Williams received a lifetime achievement award from the Greater Raleigh Sports Council last month. Staff writer Chelsea Kellner caught up with Williams by phone from the CIAA tournament in Charlotte last week to pick up a few coaching tips.

Responses have been edited for length.

Q: What’s the most important factor in motivating kids to succeed?

A: Kids reach out for us, but sometimes we don’t give back that same love. What I try to do is give back. I have tough love; there are some things I won’t allow kids to do. At practice, they have to do 25 pushups first. Ain’t no ‘do it later’; do it first, do it now. Some kids have never been out of their environment. You have to reach out and show them that tough love and show them that you care. Everybody needs love.

Q: How did you start coaching Olympic athletes?

A: They happened to be at St. Augustine’s. You don’t plan your life. Your life may already be planned, maybe God planned it for you, and you try to meet it halfway in everything you do.

Q: What’s it like coaching Olympic athletes?

A: They were my students, so it’s just like everything else. They stay with me because they know my tough love, they know I’m not going to let success get to them. I tell them, I’ve been in this business for 30-some years, and I’m still happy every time I win a championship, like it’s the first one.

(At a recent awards ceremony,) I looked at my wife and said, man, there’s a lot of great coaches in here today. She said, there’s one less than you think. I laughed. It’s important to stay humble. It’s about doing your job and moving on.

Q: What’s the secret to training student athletes to get to the Olympics?

A: First of all, they were born with talent, so the secret is to keep them motivated, and not mess up that talent. The second is that tough love. Try to guide them in the right directions, let them know that life has a lot to offer, but you have to give life something back.

Q: Is watching the Olympics a different experience when you’ve trained some of the athletes?

A: Oh yes. I might be 100 years old right now, because every time I watch the Olympics, it takes a couple years off my life.

Q: With all your international success, why have you decided to stay in Raleigh?

A: I’ve had job offers from all over. A long time ago, my dad said, if you enjoy something, then stick with it, because you’ll never get rich working for somebody else anyway. St. Augustine’s College has been good to me, so I stayed with St. Augustine’s College.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Every morning I get up, I want to help somebody. If there’s anybody I can help, that’s my future plan.

Q: Do you think you’ll keep coaching?

A: I’ll coach as long as my body and mind are sound. If it gets to a point where I can’t, then I’ll try to do it a different way, from the Internet or iPad or something. As long as I’m helping somebody.