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Williams reacts to firing

November 6, 2002
Former MSU football head coach Bobby Williams walks off the field after MSU lost to Notre Dame 21-17 at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 21.

Former Spartans football head coach Bobby Williams spoke out Wednesday for the first time since his firing.

Williams told ESPN his expectations as coach included the same opportunities extended to his predecessors - former head coaches George Perles and Nick Saban - when they took over the football squad.

Williams was fired after a team practice Monday. The announcement came on the heels of MSU’s 49-3 trouncing by the University of Michigan, the worst loss to U-M in 55 years.

“Well, I like to say that I thought that I would have the opportunity, No. 1, to fulfill my contract based on the progress that we’ve made in the program,” Williams said. “When you look at what we’ve done, the players - the quality of players that we’ve brought into the program, the commitment that we’ve made from an academic standpoint, where we started and where we are today - where the program is - and then the direction that we were heading.

“So all of those things and you look at the final record and you compare them, not only to my predecessors, but to other coaches in the conference. In some areas it’s better.”

Williams was in the third year of a five-year rolling contract, which allowed the university to sever the deal at any time for one-year’s salary - about $214,800. Final details of Williams’ severance package have not yet been announced.

University spokesman Terry Denbow said rumors of proposals to pad Williams’ severance pay in exchange for his resignation are not true.

Williams is the first head coach to be fired at MSU since Perles on Nov. 8, 1994. Perles was allowed to coach the remaining games on MSU’s schedule.

When asked by ESPN if he had felt the pressure of being one of only four African-American head coaches in Division I-A football, Williams said: “Absolutely.”

“There was a lot of pressure ... because it was so important that I do well here,” he said. “Because if I were successful here, it would create more opportunities for African-American coaches.”

Williams also was asked if he thought race played a role in his firing.

“I would hate to see race played into this, but I believe there were a lot of factors that played into this dismissal,” Williams told ESPN.

Following Williams’ termination Monday, MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson said the university damaged its mission to support diversity.

“Since I have been an adult, MSU has had a reputation for fairness to minorities,” Ferguson said in a written statement. “What is now incredibly disappointing to me is that MSU, under the cover of night, has decided to ignore the facts, ignore the precedent, and damage its reputation of fairness and commitment to diversity.”

Ferguson had no further comments when contacted Wednesday night.

MSU Athletics Director Ron Mason has said race did not play a role. Instead, he said a variety of reasons played into his decision, including Williams’ 3-6 record in 2002 and a 16-17 overall record at the helm of MSU’s football program.

Team co-captains Jeff Smoker and Dawan Moss also have run into trouble. Smoker was suspended from the team Oct. 24 and his family later admitted he has a substance abuse problem. Moss is charged with a felony after an incident involving Lansing police.

Rumors of Mason being pressured by MSU President M. Peter McPherson to fire Williams are unsubstantiated, according to MSU spokesman Terry Denbow.

“Ron Mason, as I have said many times, has made this decision,” Denbow told The State News Wednesday night. “It was his decision. No ambiguity.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Patrick Walters can be reached at walter88@msu.edu.

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