From coaching to the classroom, Linfield welcomes new professor Damian Williams


Damian Williams, center, in an image courtesy of Damian Williams.

JJ Anderson, Photographer

Walk into Damian Williams’ office in TJ Day Hall, and many hints about Williams’ path to Linfield University catch one’s eye. 

Two scuffed up skateboard decks that remind him of his childhood sit atop the bookshelf. There’s a row of hats representing his favorite teams and interests, an old Tecmo Bowl video game set beside a miniature Seattle Mariners bus, a handful of his favorite soccer clubs’ scarves. One specific hat, however, holds a special place in Williams’ heart. Stitched onto a black trucker hat is the word, “Larchmont,” the neighborhood in which he grew up. 

Born in Rhode Island, but raised near Sacramento, Calif., Williams was a star baseball player. His talents at one point brought him to a tryout for the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball. Despite not making the roster, Williams holds no ill will towards the franchise.

“That never really went anywhere, so I don’t like to bring that up,” Williams said, with a smile. “I still feel positive towards them. I was not ready to play at that level and they taught me a lot about life.”

As the saying goes, Williams has been around the block. Making a handful of stops, most recently at Willamette University in Salem, Williams now finds himself with a new home here at Linfield, as an assistant professor in the sport management department. Utilizing his connections, knowledge, and experience in the sports industry, Williams sets students up with internship possibilities, while also teaching the introductory business courses. 

During the hiring process, the hiring committee was intrigued by Williams’ coaching past, especially his two-decade tenure at Willamette. As an associate dean for the School of Business and one of the co-founders of Linfield’s sport management program, Denise Farag helped lead the committee to ultimately hire Williams. 

“He already knew what it meant to be a Wildcat,” Farag said, alluding to Williams’ history of being a part of the Northwest Conference.

Committee Chair Christopher Dahlvig echoed Farag’s sentiments, saying that Williams’ connections were very appealing, along with the “great energy” that he brings to the table.

“He is an energy-filled human being that brings great connections,” Dahlvig added. 

When Williams was attending Sacramento State University, he helped coach the local high school softball team. Unbeknownst to him, this would spark a nearly three-decade profession that would lead him to where he is today. 

After a few short coaching stints throughout Wash., Williams made his way to the Beaver State in the summer of 1998 as the head softball coach at Willamette.

The softball program he inherited at Willamette left a lot to be desired, winning just eight games in the previous three seasons prior to Williams’ hiring. Following an 11-win season in the first year under his direction, the Bearcats won 25 games under the second-year coach, setting an NCAA record for a positive win differential from one season to the next. 

Throughout his 21 years as the Willamette head coach, Williams coached his teams under the motto, “Trust, Loyalty and Patience,” which he borrowed from the Navy SEALs. 

“Navy SEALs are my heroes and I respect everything they do,” Williams said.

In his time as the Bearcats’ head coach, Williams compiled the most wins under a single coach in Willamette athletics history at 361 victories. He also brought home Northwest Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2000. 

After 28 seasons with Willamette, Williams left coaching in the rear-view mirror, and resigned in the winter of 2019. 

Simply put, “it was time,” Williams said. “The biggest thing I learned when I started coaching was responsibility, discipline and how to talk and act a certain way.”  

He felt a calling to focus on the classroom, so he continued to teach the sport management course at Willamette until he left to be a part of Linfield’s sport management department this fall.

“I’ve been teaching for quite a long time now, and I’m different in the classroom than I am as a coach. Coaching, for me, is a different mindset,” he said. “I always tried to get individuals to play as a team while coaching. In the classroom, I want to make sure I am educating students in the best way possible.”

Williams’ experiences in the sports industry field following his coaching career is what has prepared him for where he is today. Initially, he joined Sport Oregon—a non-profit that specializes in bringing world-renowned events to the state of Oregon. During his time there, Williams brought the first Ironman Triathlon to Oregon and the first World Athletics Championships to the United States. 

“He brings connections for students that can turn into internships,” Farag said. “Either through his existing ones or forging new ones.”

The opportunity to come to Linfield almost fell into Williams’ lap. 

During last year’s March Madness tournament in Portland, while working for Sport Oregon, he met the former head of the sport management at Linfield, Natalie Welch. Welch, who is now at Seattle University, instantly knew that Linfield needed to get Williams on campus. Following the announcement of Welch’s departure, Welch insisted that Williams should apply.

“It was obvious to me that the students not only respected, but liked Damian and wanted to do a good job for him,” Welch said. “After talking to him I was really impressed by his drive and his experience in the sports industry.” 

When he’s not in the classroom, Williams can likely be found playing Pokémon Go with his 10-year-old son, Everson. He also enjoys traveling the world and has visited 14 countries, but has a clear favorite.

“Spain is my absolute favorite,” Williams said. “From the people, to the food, to the vibe. And I love the fact that they siesta from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day.” 

Over the years, Williams and his wife of 18 years, Genesis, have gone on what he calls “sports trips,” where they visit an area in which there are numerous sporting events happening, so they can attend as many as possible. His favorite road trip came when he and his wife went to Chicago, Milwaukee, and finished it off with visiting the Field of Dreams film site in Dyersville, Iowa. 

“I love spending time with my wife, and I love baseball,” he said. “Put the two together for a 10-day road trip, [and] there is nothing better.” 

Williams hopes to also visit all 30 MLB ballparks, and he’s already checked 20 off of the list.

Whether it is through his coaching history or teaching experience at Willamette, Williams is equipped with experience and the attitude to make an immediate impact on the students here at Linfield.

At the end of the day, “I want to be an impactful professor in students’ lives,” Williams said. “God put me here to connect with students.”