Williamson leads team to national title

Playing football at Ole Miss can prepare a person for any number of life's challenges. But this is likely a first.

John Williamson, a Rebel football player for two years, recently completed his second season as head coach of the Vanderbilt women's bowling team. Not only that, the Commodores won the NCAA championship this spring.

The son of longtime Vanderbilt athletics media relations staffer Rod Williamson, John was on the Rebel football team in 1997 and 1998. He admitted his highlights were few.

"I caught a touchdown in the first Grove Bowl," said the former wide receiver. "I was actually a walkon. I had talked to (assistant) Coach Greg Knox and also to (head) Coach (Tommy) Tuberville. The program had been hit pretty hard by probation. There were not a lot of scholarships to offer."

But Williamson, from Franklin, Tenn., took a chance and came to Oxford. And while football didn't necessarily materialize for him, a relationship and bond with his alma mater was born that lasts today.

"I love Ole Miss, and the time I had there was phenomenal," said Williamson, a UM graduate of the Class of 2002. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

But this year he added something else to his life's list that he wouldn't trade for the world – a national title as a head coach of a Division I sport.

"Vanderbilt started the team, and I had been working with Vanderbilt baseball," said Williamson, who was serving as director of baseball operations for Tim Corbin's program. "I'd always wanted to be a head coach. This was an opportunity."

He admits not knowing much about bowling back then, except for having bowled at times himself. But he says he learned a lot from his players and also studied the sport and the rules within the NCAA.

"Our players are phenomenal," he said. "I've learned a lot from them. Most of the players are from the northeast (U.S.) and also places like Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania. But bowling is the fastest growing high school sport in the country. There are a lot of teams now in Texas and Florida, and even Tennessee has high school varsity bowling."

Williamson's path with the Commodores led him and his team to the White House where NCAA champions are honored. That was on June 18.

"An unbelievable experience," said Williamson, a Franklin Road Academy alum and a member of that school's athletics hall of fame. "It was great to see how excited the girls on the team were. Those memories will last forever."

Just like Williamson's memories of his time at Ole Miss.

"I keep up with some friends from there," he said. "(Tight end) Mitch Skrmetta was my roommate for a couple of years. It was a great five years there, and it helped shape me and mold me into who I am today."

And, in part at least, that's a Division I head coach with a national championship on his resume'.

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