Damian Williams: Trailblazing Coach and Educator Leaves Lasting Impact

Damian Williams, Willamette University’s First Black Head Coach and Winningest Leader, Leaves Rich Legacy at 52

Trailblazing Coach and Educator Passes After Battle with Cancer

Robert Damian Williams, a pioneering figure in collegiate sports and education, passed away on June 12, 2024, in Salem, Oregon. At 52, Williams succumbed to cancer after a long and courageous fight. His death marks the end of an era at Willamette University, where he served as the institution’s first Black head coach.

Williams’ impact extended far beyond the softball field. As Willamette’s winningest coach in history, he left an indelible mark on the university’s athletic program. His 21-year tenure at Willamette saw him excel in numerous roles, showcasing his versatility and dedication to student-athlete development.

Born on June 24, 1971, in Cranston, RI, Williams’ journey in sports began early. He starred in football and baseball at Center High School in North Highlands, CA, setting the stage for his future career in athletics.

A Multifaceted Career in Sports and Education

Williams’ professional journey was as diverse as it was impressive. After graduating from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in Sports Management, he embarked on a career that would touch countless lives. His first job at Seattle’s Kingdome in event management laid the foundation for a multifaceted career in sports.

From volunteer assistant softball coach at UW to head coach at Shoreline CC, Williams’ passion for coaching grew. In 2013, he earned a master’s degree in Coaching & Athletic Administration, further honing his expertise. At the time of his passing, Williams was pursuing a PhD, demonstrating his lifelong commitment to learning and growth.

His coaching prowess reached new heights in 2015 when he took a sabbatical to coach the Oregon Ducks. That year, Oregon clinched the Pac 12 championship and reached the Women’s College World Series, with Williams and his staff earning Coaching Staff of the Year honors.

International Impact and Continued Growth

Williams’ influence extended beyond U.S. borders. He coached softball teams in international competitions in England, Australia, and South Africa, and trained athletes in Costa Rica and Samoa. This global experience enriched his coaching philosophy and broadened his impact on the sport.

In 2020, Williams transitioned to sports tourism, working with Travel Salem and Sport Oregon to bring sporting events to the state. However, his passion for education called him back to the classroom. In 2022, he joined Linfield University as an Assistant Professor in the School of Business.

Williams’ innovative teaching methods, which connected classroom concepts to real-world experiences, culminated in a trip to Paris with students to study the economic impact of the upcoming Olympic Games. His dedication to education was recognized with the R.J. McIntyre Distinguished Professor Award last month.

A Legacy of Relationships and Family

Known for his ability to forge strong relationships, Williams touched countless lives as a mentor, coach, and friend. His superpower, as described by those who knew him, was his genuine interest in others’ stories and his unwavering encouragement of their journeys.

Above all, Williams was a devoted family man. He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Genesis, and their son, Everson. His love for his family was evident in the way he integrated his roles as a father and husband with his professional passions.

Damian Williams’ legacy will live on through the hundreds of students and athletes whose lives he impacted. His memorial service will be held at Willamette University’s Cone Field House on Sunday, June 30th at 1:00 p.m., providing an opportunity for the community to celebrate his remarkable life and enduring influence.