GAME CHANGER WITH JEFF WILLIAMS
BY BRADLEY LINAM | PHOTO BY MARK STRICKLAND PHOTOS
Siloam Springs Athletic Director Jeff Williams was hired in February of 2021 to lead the Panthers Athletic Department. Coach Williams is respected state-wide and his success as a high school football coach is legendary.
Coach Williams won a state championship in 2006 at Fort Smith Southside and led several other programs to deep playoff runs. We recently spoke with Coach Williams about his football life and interests outside athletics.
Growing up in Northeast Arkansas, what were some of the lessons you learned that have helped you in your coaching and administrative career?
Well I was very fortunate. My Dad, Dave Williams, was the Head Coach and Athletic Director for 3 years at Carlisle from 1978-80 and was Head Football Coach at Pocahontas from 1981-2012. I grew up around athletics and coaches my whole life. I was on a sideline either on Friday night or Saturday from the age of 4 years old until this past year, getting out of coaching and becoming the Athletic Director at Siloam Springs. I had a great experience being on the football field, in the gym, and at the baseball diamond, and sitting in on coaches meetings. I was somewhere every day. I got to meet a lot of people along the way, coaches and famous athletes. It was just a way of life in my family.
What has been the biggest change you have seen in Arkansas High School Athletics during your career?
Obviously the structure of year-round programs. My generation was the first group that really emphasized year-round programs. Off-season, in-season, and summer programs. One of the biggest things I have seen is student-athletes transferring their loyalty to your school/coach has changed so much over the years. Parents and athletes want everything right now. The days of putting time in and waiting your turn, and working through difficult situations is over. The answer to the problem now is to move or change schools. Instead of staying and working through these situations. I think students miss life lessons by not going through these situations. The other change I have seen is our student-athletes are far better skilled today than they were 20 years ago. Our student-athletes are exposed to more things today.
What makes the Siloam Springs School District such a special place?
This is an easy question. It is the people and the community. The Siloam Springs community supports their young people in all aspects. The people that work in the school district, from the superintendent to the bus driver, all have one thing in common: they care about kids. Kids come first in the Siloam Springs Public Schools. Many districts sometimes lose focus on that, but our job is to serve kids.
You’ve had so many great accomplishments in your career to this point. What has been the highlight so far?
I have been lucky to coach in a lot of big games, won some championships, and played for a few. But my biggest accomplishment over the years are the relationships I have made with family, players, teachers, coaches, and community members that I have met. I value that more than any game. I have met a lot of special people over the years. I keep up with everyone, whether it’s a former player I coached in El Dorado or a student graduating this May from Siloam Springs. This is important to me and my life’s work. Relationships mean more to me than any game. Relationships carry on for a lifetime. A game just lasts for a moment.
What is your leadership philosophy with athletics?
This is very simple: our students always come first. We are going to treat our student-athletes with respect, like they are one of our own. We are going to push them to get the most out of them in all aspects, but our number one focus will always be our students.
How has your family helped you in your coaching and administrative career?
Well my family has been a great influence. Of course my Dad (Dave Williams) with over 40 years in the school business as an administrator and coach; and my older sister (Kim Pankey) has been a teacher for over 25 years. I have a nephew (Clayton Pankey) who is a football coach at Conway High School. My wife (Linda Williams) is an educator at Siloam Springs. Education has played a major role in my family. I think being exposed to a lot of different things at an early age helped me out tremendously. Plus my years of experience on what things worked and didn’t work. To answer the question, yes my family has been a huge influence on me in my profession.
What are some future goals for the Siloam Springs Athletic Department?
Obviously, we want to win championships and compete on the state level in each sport. But our number one focus will always be our student-athletes. We want to create a culture in our athletic department that every student that participates in athletics in Siloam Springs will have one of the best experiences of their life. That will always be the goal.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and coaching career?
Man, that is hard to narrow down to just a few. There are so many people that have helped a young man from Pocahontas, Arkansas along the way. Obviously, my Dad (Dave Williams) helped expose me to the business and he taught me about hard work. He always said you have to have players, but you can outwork people and give your kids the best chance you can to win. Hard work and toughness I got from my Dad. Ellis “Scooter “ Register is another person who had a great influence on me. I got to work with Coach Register for 6 years in El Dorado. Coach Register taught me about organization, and having big dreams for your program. He taught me if you believe and you get everybody else around you to believe, things will happen. Ronnie Kerr, my college football coach (Henderson State), taught me how to compete everyday. He used to have this saying “You are getting better or you’re getting worse every day.’’ This means nobody stays the same. You have to compete with yourself and others every day to get what you want to accomplish. Jim Rowland, former Athletic Director at Fort Smith Public Schools. Coach Rowland showed us all how you should treat people. The respect you must have for other coaches and other programs. Everything you do, you do with class. Those are just a few individuals that stand out, but I have all kinds that have been a huge influence on me and my career.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
People have warned me I do not have many hobbies. I really enjoy hanging out and traveling with my wife Linda. We have a great time. It does not matter if we are on the beach or at a Razorback basketball game or meeting up with old friends. We have a great life together. I always look forward to hanging out with family and friends. No complaints from me. I have been very fortunate that the Lord has put me at the right places at the right times.