Many people spend half their lives trying to decide what they
will do with it. It did not take as long for Jim “Jay Jay”
“I decided I wanted to be a coach in the fifth grade,” Williams
said. “That’s pretty young, you know what I mean?”
Though his days behind the bench have long since passed, the
84-year-old former CSU men’s basketball coach can still be found at
the courts of Moby Arena on cold winter evenings. He has spent his
entire life around the game of basketball, and the passion to teach
the game has not gone away. Yet, in an era when coaches put their
premium on wins, Williams is a throwback to the glory days of
college athletics and an era when a college education meant more
than a pro career.
These days, if you sit next to his courtside seat and listen, it
is as if the court were Williams’ classroom.
“Clear out that lane! Let him drive to the basket,” he yells.
“Second shot! Block out!”
Perhaps teaching and coaching mean so much to Williams because
he himself was far from an exemplary student.
“I was a very poor student, but athletics kept me going,”
Williams said. “I think through the years that followed my brother
grabbing me and saying, ‘You’re going to school’; I think that
experience along with the army experience just helped me
A native of Utah, Williams served as a captain in the military
and was stationed at New Guinea. Following his stint, Williams
returned to Utah and coached at Snow Junior College. In addition to
coaching basketball, Williams coached football and baseball.
However, Williams found his true home in 1954 when he took the
reins of the Colorado A&M basketball program. He came to a
school that was a fledgling among college basketball programs.
Unlike the present day, in which the Rams play in the comfy
confines of their own home arena and have national-caliber practice
facilities, Williams had to coach in a cramped environment.
“We had the gymnasium and you’d have weights, wrestling and the
gymnastics coach behind the curtain, and he’d roll the mat down,
and they’d be practicing their tumbling on the side of the court,”
Williams said. “It was like coaching at Grand Central Station.”
Williams was a fiery competitor when it came time for tipoff and
was no stranger to mixing it up with referees. Still, it was that
attitude that led Williams to challenge some of the nation’s top
teams. Against legendary John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins, Williams
and the Rams were 2-2.
These intangibles ultimately earned Williams the respect and
friendship of his peers. Former University of Texas-El Paso coach
Don Haskins, a one-time national champion, recalls an example of
one of Williams’ legendary bouts with referees.
“One time, in El Paso, I’ll never forget, Jim got kicked out of
the game, and he had come all the way to my bench and challenged me
to get kicked out with him so we wouldn’t have to watch the
officiating in that particular game,” Haskins said while laughing.
“And I accommodated him, so we went and drank coffee, and we both
had our runners telling us the scores. Evidently his assistants
were better than mine because they won.”
Going beyond wins and losses
Williams coached the Rams from 1954 to 1980, a total of 25
seasons, winning 352 games. Four times he guided Colorado State to
the NCAA Tournament, including the 1969 season, in which the Rams
beat the University of Colorado in the second round to advance to
the Elite 8. To this date, it is the closest any athletic program
at CSU has ever come to winning a national title.
“I remember we beat CU, and everyone thought we won the national
championship,” Williams recalled. “We tried to practice the next
day, but there were just throngs of media, and we didn’t get
anything done. It’s my greatest regret because I think we could
have beaten Drake (the team the Rams lost to in the Elite 8). I
said to the kids that there is always something more in everything
In addition to building a winning basketball program, Williams
helped to enhance the entire athletic department during his time as
athletic director from 1964 to 1968. The school experienced its
greatest period of growth, highlighted by the construction of
Hughes Stadium and Moby Arena.
Beyond the game, though, Williams was much more than a coach. He
took the lead in breaking the color line in college basketball,
recruiting several prominent African-American athletes, like former
CSU All-American Bill Green.
“Bill Green didn’t have anything,” Williams said. “He was dead
set on getting an education, and I did everything I could to help
him get one.”
Although he was drafted sixth overall by the powerful Boston
Celtics, Green turned down a pro career to become a teacher. By the
time of his death in 1994, Green had become one of the nation’s
foremost educators in Brooklyn.
“He went to the Bronx and did a great job, and he’s probably the
best basketball player that ever played here,” Williams said.
Main purpose: Providing opportunity to succeed
Regardless of race or ethnicity, Williams was concerned with
giving his athletes a chance to succeed in life, which left a
lasting impact on virtually every young man he coached. One of
Williams’ first players, Boyd Grant, worked with Williams for
several years as an assistant coach following his playing career
and was later the head coach at CSU from 1988 to 1991. Through the
years, Grant saw firsthand the life lessons his mentor imparted on
his young players.
“Here’s a man who gave his whole life to be an influence on the
young people he recruited, and so many of them are so successful,”
Grant said. “And I think that they are still doing some of the
things Coach Williams taught them, like teamwork, paying the price
for others to be successful, having integrity and being honest, and
playing defense. And when you play defense you’re a giver, and not
a taker, and thus you contribute to society.”
Beyond the court, beyond the classroom, Williams was a teacher,
and that is the legacy he would like to leave.
“When they judge me, I’d like to have people remember my
graduation rate of my players, because the rest of that stuff are
just a statistic,” Williams said. “But it’s that you’re teaching,
and you’re accomplishing something.”