May 28, 2014
John Williamson is in his 10th season as Vanderbilt’s women’s bowling coach. The Franklin native has led the Commodores to nine straight NCAA Tournaments and the 2007 national championship. Before being tapped to run the program in 2004, Williamson was the director of operations for Tim Corbin and the baseball team and worked in the athletic development office. He lives with his wife, Melissa, and their five dogs, three of which the couple has rescued.
Nine straight NCAA Tournaments. When you started, did you think this was possible?
When we started I had aspirations of that or something like this. It is tough when you have transition year in and year out and kids graduating. We’ve done a really good job of keeping players through graduation. Every year you graduate people and you have new teams. Other teams are different. To do nine in a row is pretty good. I guess you always hope it would be like this, but you never really know.
When did you know you wanted to be a bowling coach?
That’s funny, because I really didn’t think about it until Brian Reese asked me if I was interested in doing it. I was working with the baseball team at the time, and I thought I wanted to get into fundraising. I worked with Coach Corbin for two years and was trying to figure out what my next step was. Vanderbilt started the program in the spring, and it was now late summer. I was sort of looking to see what I could do next. I was presented with this opportunity. Deep down I always wanted to be a head coach, and Coach Corbin helped me devise a plan of how I would sell the idea that although I never had any coaching experience on the collegiate level, that we could put a plan together that would get us to a championship level. He is one of my mentors. A lot of this is help from him. I never really dreamed of being a bowling coach. It just sort of happened.
How much do you enjoy it?
It is awesome. It is great. The satisfaction you get from getting a group of people to buy into a common theme or common direction. You go to an event, and you lay everything out there. Either you’re successful or you’re not. And then you regroup and you come back. Trying to teach them the life lessons of sometimes not everything goes your way. It is a unique, amazing experience. You see the kids grow up. You see them come in as freshmen and then see the enlightened, educated powerful women that they graduate. They can really do anything they want. Some part of me thinks I have some responsibility in that. Most of it is on them, but it is nice to think you can say you help a little bit.
What was it like when you won the national championship?
I guess I was so young and dumb and new to the sport, new to coaching, that I probably didn’t appreciate it for what it really was. It was so quick. We had four sophomores and a freshman in our starting lineup. We had a sophomore and freshman on the bench. We had seven people who were going to be there the next two or three years. I immediately started thinking about two, three (national championships) with this group, let alone my career. We were close in 2008. 2009 didn’t end very well. The championship in 2010 when we had our best roster and we went 1-2 in the tournament. I’ll never forget, they asked me, “What does it take to win the national championship?” I basically said I don’t know. In 2007, we won it with a team that in bowling terms wasn’t ready to win it. In 2010 we had a team that was seasoned, our best collective roster in terms of talent and didn’t win it. Looking back on it, I don’t think I appreciated it enough. I don’t think I took it for what it really was. So if we ever get that opportunity again I’m going to probably enjoy it a little bit more than I did.
Looking at it now, I can still remember shots, I can still remember moments that changed that tournament. Each of those moments stick out in my head. Looking back at 2007, that group on that weekend was probably the most selfless group we’ve ever had. I had a player the day of the national championship who struggled in (tournament) up until that point basically tell me she thought her teammate should play ahead of her. This girl was a third-team All-American… It meant enough to her. When you are around group like that, good things happen.
You and your wife have five dogs (four German shorthaired pointers and a Yorkshire terrier)?
Most of our free time has four legs involved in some form or fashion. We rescued one, and we’re fostering two. We own the other two. It is important to us that the ones we rescue we save from an untimely end because of owners’ lack of responsibility. It is important to us to foster the two because they’re brother and sister and they’re seniors. They’re 13. My wife is more of the soft one when it comes to the animals. But it was important to both of us. I guess I’m an animal lover and want them to have a good home.