UT head coach Mack Brown released the following statement on Williams' decision:
"All of us at The University of Texas appreciate Ricky for the person he is every bit as much as we do for the football that he played. When he asked me how I would feel about his decision, I told him I would like him even if he had never played football.
Giving up something that you love to do is never an easy choice, and I respect Ricky for the thought that he has put into this. This is something he has considered for a long time. He always told me he couldn't wait until the time came when he could come back to school and finish his degree.
He has meant a lot to the game, and the game has done a lot for him. I am happy he is healthy, and he has a bright future ahead of him. We look forward to having him back here in Austin as soon as it works for him."
Williams was mentioned prominently during the annual Big 12 Football Media Days in Kansas City last week. Then, reporters primarily speculated about his recent failed marijuana test and his decision to shave his dreds. Meanwhile, his captivating run for the Heisman was one of the primary reasons senior RB Cedric Benson signed with the Longhorns.
"I remember back in 1998 (January 1, 1999, actually) I was in bed and my mom woke me up," Benson said. "The Cotton Bowl was on and Ricky was running."
Benson's 3,706 career rushing yards now trail only Williams (6,279) and Earl Campbell (4,443) at Texas.
"I was still a sophomore in high school," Benson continued. "That whole (1998) season I spent glued to the television, watching Texas football and picking up on everything I could. It was great looking up to Ricky and picking up on what he was doing. Once I got to Austin, I wanted to leave my own legacy. I wanted to portray the role he portrayed for me and for kids at home."
Williams shattered the 22-year old NCAA all-time rushing record that Tony Dorsett set in 1976 while he was a Pitt Panther. Although Wisconsin's Ron Dayne eclipsed his career rushing mark the following season, Williams still ranks first on the NCAA's all-time all-purpose yardage list with 7,206 yards.
The New Orleans Saints traded all of their 1999 draft selections, and their first- and third-round picks in the 2000 draft, to move up to the fifth spot in order to draft Williams in '99. He spent three star-crossed years in the Saints organization, but irked reporters with his sullen and standoffish behavior. He often wore his helmet during interviews, and his overall demeanor was mystifying to fans in Austin.
But Williams' public NFL persona was not too dissimilar from who he was privately in Austin, according to a source with historic ties to UT Men's Athletics.
"It was hard to get close to Ricky," our source said. "He never bathed. He never cleaned his room. He was a weird bird."
Brown admitted this past week that he thought it would be impossible for Williams to break Dorsett's record "since we were coming off of a 4-7 season." But then as Williams' totals began to mount, 318 against Rice and then 350 against Iowa State, coaches began to question to what extent the game plan should be predicated upon padding Williams stats as well as when he should be pulled from a game.
"(PA announcer) Bill Little would call down to the field and let me know Ricky needed just 11 more yards for another record," Brown recalled. "But at some point you had to pull him or you risk injury when the game was already in hand."
Williams still holds 15 NCAA records and 41 school records.