Ousted track legend George Williams says Saint Augustine's wanted to cut his pay in half

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- George Williams is convinced that God saved his life after a serious ATV accident in Doha, Qatar, to allow him to finish his mission at Saint Augustine's University.

Two more years as coach and hopefully one more national title, his 40th. His school, unfortunately, had other plans, firing Williams after his attorney said he refused to take a 50 percent pay cut and step down from his role as athletic director.

Speaking Thursday, in a navy polo adorned with SAU's athletics logo, Williams said he's going to fight to get his job back.

"I think my major goal now is to finish the job that I started," Williams said.

It's all been a blur since Wednesday's climactic meeting with school leadership. Williams said the reality of the situation still hasn't sunk in.

"I was hurt but I was humble," Williams said. "I could have did a lot of things and said a lot of things, but I'll let God do that."

For the hundreds of student-athletes he's coached, among them more than 45 Olympians, it's an inexplicable and inexcusable move by Saint Augustine's leadership.

"He is the brand, you know he traveled all over the world with me to Olympic Games and he was there when I got my Olympic gold and bronze," hurdling legend Bershawn Jackson told ABC11, "and to get rid of your brand, somebody who brings a positive influence to the school, and brings in admissions, for me is heartbreaking."

One of the USA's most decorated track athletes, Jackson gives all credit to Williams for his success.

"Anything you set your mind to, you can achieve, and he installed that in me," Jackson said.

Jackson is angry and he's far from alone. Tia-Adana Belle came all the way from Barbados to learn from Williams and credits him not just for her athletic success, but for also inspiring her to invest in her academics.

"It's cool just to take that away? With no explanation? It's disrespectful," she said. "I believe that coach did so much for the school that they should allow him to go out on his own."

Williams has been far more than a coach to his athletes. He's been the consummate father figure and mentor, molding young lives. He's desperate to finish that mission on his own terms. In fact, in his mind, he's still the head coach.

"I'm still there. I don't feel like I'm going anywhere.," Williams said. "I just feel like this is probably a nightmare, you know?"

Marquita Davis ran for Williams at SAU and then got her start in coaching as his assistant for six years.

"For me, coach is, he's so much bigger than just George Williams," Davis said. "You know, the legend, the father, the mentor, the spiritual guide, the, I mean you name it -- that's what he is."

Williams and his attorney did not want to speculate why Saint Augustine's went forward with the decision, but they feel they are owed an explanation, and ultimately reinstatement.

For its part, the University released a statement saying that though it deeply appreciated Williams' contributions, sports other than track and field needed "significant development and focus."

SAU administrators determined that a "more robust" athletics program needed to be cultivated under "new leadership initiatives."

The University went on to say that it had been in negotiations with Williams since March and had offered to let him continue as track coach and take the title of athletic director emeritus, but that Williams declined the offer.

"We sincerely appreciate his service and wish him all the best as he moves forward," the statement concluded.
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