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Founder of USF basketball Don Williams dies at 84
He coached the Bulls' first three seasons, compiling a 33-42 record.
By Stephanie Garry, Times Staff Writer
Published February 29, 2008
Don Williams coached Hillsborough High to its last state title in 1959 before moving on to USF.
Don Williams, the basketball coach who founded USF's program and led Hillsborough High to its last state championship, died this morning at a nursing home in Zephyrhills, his wife, Margie, confirmed. He was 84.
Mr. Williams, a quiet man who rarely argued with referees, led the 1959 Hillsborough Terriers to the state title in Gainesville. He coached from 1954 to 1962. He was hired to start the USF men's program in 1969 with the varsity team making its debut in the 1971-72 season.
"He was the perfect individual for South Florida to have at that time to start their program," said Bill Lear, a guard on the Bulls' first team. "He was all business but he was always a nice guy off the court."
Mr. Williams went 33-42 in USF's first three seasons.
"He reminded me of a Tom Landry, a quiet guy with a lot of dignity, but he was fierce," said Joe Tomaino, a longtime USF athletic employee who had just started working at USF when Mr. Williams coached the Bulls. "Don Williams was one of the icons."
This month the Hillsborough County School Board voted to name the Hillsborough High gymnasium the Don Williams Athletic Center.
Though a neurological problem hampered his ability to communicate, he cried when he learned former players and students were petitioning for the name change, said Margie, his wife of 62 years. When she told him it was approved, he smiled.
"He just started grinning really slowly, and it just broadened and broadened," said Williams, 84, of Zephyrhills. "It was real cute. I wish I had a movie camera going."
She estimated about 30 former students came to visit him at the nursing home.
A service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Trinity United Methodist Church, located at 33425 State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel.
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.